Historical Fiction at it’s best, THE GIRLS with NO NAMES by Serena Burdick creates a tapestry of New York City in the early 1900’s. It’s made up of immigrants and the tenements that were their homes on the mean streets of a burgeoning city, of the Romani (gypsies) who camped in the woods near the home of the book’s protagonist sisters… near the infamous House of Mercy, and the wealthy Victorians, who clung to their traditional values and punished those who didn’t adhere to those values. Finally, we see the youth of this gilded age who tried their best to shed the old mores. THE GIRLS with NO NAMES takes us back to a time when women were fighting to be heard. The Women’s Suffrage movement was just starting to make headway while still being held down by the patriarchal standards of society. If women didn’t conform, rebelled or “acted inappropriately,” they could be sent away to a sanitorium. One of these houses for wayward women, disguised as a religious institution, was the HOUSE of MERCY on 86th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It’s public mission was to rescue girls and women from vice, but in reality, it was a Magdalene laundry…a house of horror, hunger, torture and worse… where these females were not redeemed from their “sin” but imprisoned and exploited for free, backbreaking labor to benefit the church.
The stories of these young women are of survival, friendship, love, bravery, resilience and hope…a coming of age of sorts. Based initially on the family life of two very different sisters, we follow their friends and family along their separate paths, digesting their stories and struggles as they travel this journey called LIFE. This is a most enjoyable piece of historical fiction!