The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick
Published by Park Row, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Against the backdrop of a patriarchal society under threat from the suffrage movement, Serena Burdick examines the enduring bond of sisterhood and those who were relegated to the fringes of society.
It’s the early 20th century and women are taking to the streets of New York to demand their rights. Teenage sisters Luella and Effie Tildon have enjoyed a comparatively privileged upbringing, but money has not afforded them health or happiness; Effie suffers the effects of a malformed heart, while Luella longs for freedom. The sisters rebel quietly at first, but when Luella’s defiance escalates, a dangerous rift tears the family apart. Waking one morning to find her sister gone, Effie fears her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy. This infamous reform house promises to straighten the paths of troublesome girls through a strict regimen of manual labor and religious virtue, and Effie decides she must get inside in order to rescue her sister and repair her broken family.
The primary strength of the novel lies in the depth of its characters. None of the main players are presented as wholly good or bad, and in the nuance of these complexities, Burdick captures a society on the cusp of change.