The Sixpenny Orphan

Written by Glenda Young
Review by Edward James

Glenda Young specialises in heart-warming stories set in her native Northumbria. The Sixpenny Orphan is set in the early 20th century in the mining village of Ryhope, near Sunderland, where the author grew up. It concerns two orphan sisters who are fostered as children in separate households and are reunited in adult life. The decision as to which girl went where was made on the toss of a coin, hence the title of the book.  The story is told from a single viewpoint, that of the elder sister Poppy, with no flashbacks, dual narratives or other literary devices save for a time lapse from 1909 to 1919.

This is not, however, a simple happy-ever-after story.  Problems multiply when the rediscovered younger sister, Rose, joins Poppy’s family.  She has a lot of emotional baggage, and her past keeps catching up with her.  Of course, it all works out right in the end, and they settle down to stable and fulfilling lives (except that the Depression and collapse of the mining industry still lie ahead). This is an easy read and genuinely heart-warming, although I wish the reader had been given some sort of diagnosis for Poppy’s baby’s life-threatening illness.  Also why did a poor family like hers ever consider taking the child to a fee-paying doctor instead of going to the out-patients at the hospital in Sunderland?  That’s what we did before the NHS.