My Notorious Life

Written by Kate Manning
Review by Caroline Wilson

Scrappy Axie Muldoon is a child of the gritty New York streets. Begging is a way of life for her and her two siblings when they are scooped up by one of the 19th century’s moralizing do-gooders and packed off for Illinois on an orphan train. Once in the small town of Rockford, Axie’s family is torn apart as her younger sister Dutch and little brother Joe are adopted by different families. Axie herself is considered an undesirable and is sent back to New York with fellow orphan Charlie. There she begins a meteoric rise from humble servant girl to midwife apprentice to New York’s most infamous “she devil.”

My Notorious Life is a humorous but often heartbreaking look at New York’s forgotten ones. Axie is a plucky heroine, feisty and determined to not only make something of herself but to reunite her family. She does it all on her own terms, and even as rises up from the gutter, she never forgets her roots. She is a very three-dimensional character, which is a hard feat to accomplish. You sympathize with her, cry with her, and laugh at her antics and wry sense of humor.

Manning deftly captures the abject despair of poverty and the dazzling glitter of the Gilded Age. The hypocrisy of late 19th-century America is always present and rendered brilliantly through the people who come to Axie for help, as well as those who seek to destroy her. There are aspects of social commentary woven into the narrative – some might even say that they are applicable to modern times – but the plot itself shines the brightest and should be enjoyed. My Notorious Life is highly recommended and not to be missed.