The Orphanage Girls Reunited (The Orphanage Girls, 2)

Written by Mary Wood
Review by Athena Heavey

The second instalment of Mary Wood’s The Orphanage Girls series spans from 1910 to 1919 and follows Ellen and Ruth as they navigate their new lives after leaving the London orphanage in which they grew up together. The first five years centre solely around Ellen, the youngest, who is placed in the care of her wealthy, long-lost grandmother. Now living in the countryside near Leeds, Ellen is loved and educated, though this alone cannot free her from the trauma her childhood inflicted. So, when she discovers that Ruth is making a living as an actress in the West End, Ellen knows she must make her way back to London to reunite with her. The two must face the ghosts of their pasts together. But with World War One looming on the horizon, it is not only the horrors of yesterday which loom over the girls, but those of tomorrow too.

In only 370 pages, Wood succeeds in offering readers an extensive overview of the troubles plaguing London—and, indeed, Europe more generally—during the build-up to, and throughout, the First World War. Through the eyes of the two young orphans, readers bear witness first to the poverty and destitution rife in the English capital, before travelling overseas with the pair when they volunteer as nursing staff with the Red Cross to support the war effort and witness first-hand the death and devastation of the front line. While Wood’s ambitious plot does at times result in some issues with the pacing of the narrative, she nevertheless succeeds in delivering an incredibly emotional account of the heightened experiences of love and loss which accompany war. A bittersweet tale that will have readers smiling on one page and crying on the next.