Book Review: Orphan Sisters by Lola Jaye

Lana and May are a very long way from home.

Their Nigerian parents have emigrated to England in search of a better life for their family. Nineteen Fifties London is a great adventure to the girls but not always welcoming. There are signs in windows of lodging houses warning: ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.

When tragedy strikes and the girls lose their father, their mother is unable to cope. When she fails to recover from the surprise birth of another child all three girls are sent to an orphanage. Lana is determined to keep her sisters together but when baby Tina gets adopted, she must admit their family is about to be torn apart – perhaps for ever…

What I Thought:
There seems to be a very healthy market for what I would term ‘nostalgia’ titles – set in the 1940s and 1950s, these titles have a nice girl in a difficult situation, who then comes through in the end. What they tend to all have in common, is that the little girl is invariably white and, reading Orphan Sisters, was the first instance in which I’ve read about children of colour during this time period.

Anyone who knows a little about the UK during the 1950s will be familiar with the blatant racism of this time – the landlords who would accept ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ and the Rivers of Blood speech – and it’s unusual and interesting to read a fiction title about the experience of those who came to the UK for better opportunities at that time.

The book begins in Nigeria, with such a sense of hope – Lana and May’s father is working in the UK and the family waits for word that they may finally make the long journey themselves. When they do, they discover a whole new, fascinating world, but one where the people are not quite so friendly and the weather not quite so warm.

Lola Jaye writes the girls very well, capturing their childish delight at their new experiences, and their new home provided by a father that is working his way up. But suddenly it all comes to an end – Daddy suddenly, and dramatically passes away.

Lana and May’s lives are then thrown into turmoil, with a mother who cannot cope with two daughters, a surprise pregnancy and an abject loss of hope. They eventually end up placed in an orphanage. Lana fights to keep the family together, but will everything be torn from her as her parents were?

Orphan Sisters is, despite some harrowing sections, a lovely book to read. While terrible things happen to the girls, there is inspiration to be drawn from their determined nature. If you read the book and take it at face value, then it is what it is, but if you bring to mind the time period in which it is set, imagining just how hard it must’ve been for the girls with the prevailing attitude towards black people being so awful, it is a small insight into how life would have been for the hundreds of people who came to the UK from Nigeria, the West Indies, India and many other places in hopes of a better life.

Like most of these nostalgia titles, there is an uplifting ending to this book, but it is handled well and not schmaltzy. The whole book, in fact is very well written and although it deals with difficult subject matter, it is never overtly depressing as the main characters have such hope for their future.

Orphan Sisters is definitely recommended. The ebook is available now, but the paperback is due for release on 21st September.

Please Note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All view are, as ever, my own.

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