“The future was full of possibilities, making her mind race and her heart soar.”
We all know that Glenda Young has asserted herself as one of the main faces in the saga genre. When I pick up one of her books I don’t even need to read the blurb as I know I’ll be hooked from the start; frantically flipping the pages with baited breath, desperately needing to know what happens next. Of course, ‘The Sixpenny Orphan’ was no exception.
One of the reasons I love Glenda’s saga novels is her consistent ability to write amazing heroines who overcome huge adversity, have incredible strength and both inspire and humble the reader; although this time, she truly outdid herself by giving us not one, but two! My initial prediction when I realised this story was one of two sisters, was that there would be a typical ‘good’ and ‘bad’ one, the latter of which I would love to hate. However, as Glenda does so often, she took what could have been a typical saga plot and broke away from that mould, putting her own unique spin on these characters. Although we quickly learn that Poppy is the slightly more outspoken of the two, I was surprised and pleased as the story progressed and the complexity of both characters began to unfold as the chapters (and years) went by, with both Poppy and Rose having strengths and flaws which were unique to each of their multi-faceted personalities.
I wouldn’t say I had a favourite between Poppy and Rose, since both had their own, equally rich and intriguing personal histories, but one aspect of the overall story which really stood out to me was Poppy’s struggle to balance meeting the needs of her children, husband and sister; to say nothing of her job and responsibility of running the house. Some feelings simply transcend eras, and the overwhelm which comes from meeting the emotional needs of everyone around you whilst carrying the mental load for the household as a collective, is a feeling shared by mothers, or ‘default parents’ everywhere. A great deal of Poppy and Rose’s struggles were, although very emotional, quite unrelatable for a typical 2023 reader, most of whom simply cannot comprehend that level of poverty and inequality, but the emotionally drained mother trying her best to do it all is a feeling which struck a cord with me, and probably many others, instantly.
Glenda has an amazing ability to write inspiring heroines who we are all rooting for, but what ‘The Sixpenny Orphan’ really highlighted for me is Glenda’s aptitude for writing truly incredible leading men. I have touched on this before, but the character of Sid really emphasized this for me. The world of fiction is absolutely littered with dreamy, idealistic men, but being able to create one which has appeal within the context of a mining village in 1919 is no easy task. In a time and social context where women and men had very clear roles, defined both legally and culturally; decades away from women having the most basic of rights such as their own bank account (which is ridiculous when we consider the fact that most, if not all, of our Ryhope heroines work in some capacity, but the patriarchy never did make sense to me), it must have been incredibly hard to write a man who is appealing to a 2023 audience and yet still believable in the context of the plot. Of course Glenda nailed this though, and our lovely Sid embodies all the qualities we want in a modern man; he’s supportive of Poppy’s dreams, values her family and is a relatively hands-on dad (a term I despise), but is still very much of his time in that we still wouldn’t trust him to make a batch of soup or to tackle the mammoth task of laundry day. But, when it really matters, he is wholeheartedly there for Poppy and her sister. Not that she needs him of course, because like the rest of Glenda’s heroines, she is more than strong enough to face the world on her own, even more so with her sister.
“I daresay you can cope with anything life chucks at you.”
Similarly, I really enjoyed the glimpses we had into Ambrose and Ella’s relationship. Although secondary characters, it was moving to see how Ambrose truly sees Ella as his equal and values their business as a joint venture; another modern man like our Sid. I like to think that seeing this relationship at an early age (even when she was being told off) is what taught Poppy that she shouldn’t settle when it comes to her own choice of husband. A lesson which, thankfully, Rose eventually seems to learn too. Some of our Ryhope heroines weren’t quite able to get the measure of the right man, but Poppy especially seems to know what she wants and isn’t prepared to settle. It’s not often I celebrate the male characters over the females, but the world could definitely use more Sids and Ambroses!
Another thing which I particularly enjoyed about ‘The Sixpenny Orphan’ was Lil Mahone’s redemption arc. For those of us who have followed Glenda’s Ryhope sagas up to now, Lil has become the one we all love to hate; her gossip might help to move a plot along nicely from time to time, but I would really hate to know her. Although, having said that, I think every street has a Lil Mahone in some form; and she would absolutely be the diligent, Karen-esque admin of her local village Facebook group if she were around today.
All in all, even though I’ve had many, many visits to Glenda’s world of 1919 Ryhope, she continues to churn out fresh characters and plots which make the stories of this familiar village feel like we’re visiting for the first time. The only thing I was left wanting more of from ‘The Sixpenny Orphan’, is Rose’s story. I would be so interested to read this same novel written from Rose’s perspective, to really get into how things felt from where she stood.