The Fifteen Streets
John O’Brien is a dockworker who returns home each night to a mean existence in the fifteen streets of Northumberland. His mother’s attempt at order is thwarted by his drunken father and malevolent brother, while his sister Katie may escape the misery through schooling if someone will discuss her situation with Mary, her teacher. When John finally meets Mary, the daughter of a wealthy ship builder, he discovers that Katie’s claims of her beauty were not exaggerated. Mary’s sweet disposition and ability to see John’s poetic nature blinds her to his background. Complicating matters is a spiritualist family who moves in next to the O’Briens.
Cookson’s firsthand experience with the poverty found in England lends credibility to her use of pawn shops, scorn for those who try to better themselves, and just plain meanness. The interaction between John’s family and the community shows how they care about one another, yet are quick to judge. Although primarily a romance, this novel strongly depicts social conditions and religious intolerance in England. Readers of both romances and historical fiction will likely enjoy the reissue of this novel.