Among the Fallen

Written by Virginia Frances Schwartz
Review by Melissa Warren

The ability to recognize one’s humanity and see the humanity of others is a life-saving gift. Among the Fallen is the story of Orpha, an inmate and survivor, who possesses this gift. Once a free spirit and trained actress, Orpha lost her parents and is forced into a workhouse and then to Tothill Fields prison. At age sixteen, she has endured two years in London’s prison for children. Near the end of her sentence in 1857, Orpha and several girls in E wing receive a letter from a stranger, Charles Dickens, inviting them to Urania Cottage, a home for fallen women.

Although Orpha is terrified to accept, she moves to Urania Cottage. There she finds the love and support of the matrons, benefactress, and the other fallen girls. Charles Dickens also becomes an important force in her life, setting the rules, demanding perfection in all things domestic, and urging Orpha to share her story with him. While she is keenly aware of his shortcomings, she is ultimately inspired, not only by his brilliance, but by his ability to see women, children, and the poor as people. People worthy of a voice.

I highly recommend this novel to readers fourteen and up. Schwartz explores sexual violence and its aftermath in frank terms. More importantly, she explores the journey of healing with nuance, kindness, and clarity. It is the story of reclaiming self, childhood, and friendship.