Halfpenny Dreams

Written by Frances Brody
Review by Julie Parker

I began this novel thinking that it was going to be a typical romantic saga, but there are several incidents, some poignant and some shocking, which separate it from that genre. Too many details would give the story away, but the poignant incidents involve family deaths. Each chapter alternates between young teenage characters, Sophie and Lydia, who represent the two main families: the Morans, a poor working-class family, and the Thackreys, headed by Sheldon Thackrey, a wealthy bank owner. The location is 1930s Leeds, where the author lives, and the depictions of the lives of poor families at that time are particularly well done. Barney Moran is commissaire at Thackrey’s Bank, and the families connect when Sophie and Rosa Moran become friends with Lydia Thackrey, Sheldon’s stepdaughter.

The main themes are the aftermath of the Great War and its effect on old soldiers, 1930s unemployment and poverty, women’s roles and place in society, social injustice, and the attraction of the United States to poor working-class families seeking a better life. There is also some mention of the stage and music hall and the difficulties of avoiding a life of crime to get by. It comes as no surprise to learn that the author is better known for a series of crime novels featuring Kate Shackleton. The search for true love and domestic bliss, and associated hazards along the way, are portrayed in the stories of both Lydia and Sophie. The novel is well plotted with good characterization, and the reader isn’t always sure how it will all turn out. (Previously published as Sisters of Fortune by Frances McNeil in 2007. –ed.)