The Workhouse Waif

Written by Lynette Rees
Review by Simon Rickman

1867, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. This crisis-to-comfort tale concerns young Megan Hopkins, the eponymous waif, whose mother and younger siblings are split up within the local workhouse after their father’s death down the mine. Mum is as good as dead, and the whole workhouse experience forces Megan to develop a resistance against the extreme nastiness and brutal humiliation wreaked by some in authority, abusing not only their positions but also their wards. Over time her strengthening attitude contributes much to finding her own path out and away. The sympathy and kindness shown by some staff buffer her plight, but there seems to be no end of setbacks. Her only solace comes after a chance encounter with cocky Griff, a charming street urchin of similar age, whose own story interweaves with Megan’s, taking us to Victorian London’s theatre land and beyond into an uncertain yet hopeful future. Alongside the detailed squalor, cold and further threats, runs a comforting supply of friendly and trustworthy folk in pie-shops and tea-rooms, thus a much welcome hug, sticky bun or pastry treat is never far away, keeping body and soul together.

The lies, pies and sighs blend expertly into a smooth easy-to-read story with as many ups and downs as a badly cobbled street. There is never a dull moment throughout; even toward the end, events might yet thwart our heroine’s quest for ‘the missing piece of her heart’ and we are cleverly kept guessing as to the outcome right up until the final pages. Much local knowledge adds much authenticity, making this well told tale a very good read indeed.