In The Twisted Threads of Polly Freeman, Pippa Goodhart accomplishes a feat I’d thought impossible: she writes a historical novel with no horror or guilt, instead she focusses on the impact 1838 Britain had on children and families.
Whilst reading, the characters and narrative are not dissimilar to that of Oliver Twist but Goodhart has done a marvellous job making the topic of slavery, child labour and class injustice, accessible for younger readers.
“When the bell rang to mark the end of the working day there was a common sigh of relief.”
What’s the book about?
Polly Freeman is anything but ‘free’. Polly is owned by the mill and faces a terrifying journey and separation from her beloved Aunt. She’s made to work at Quarry Bank Cotton Mill, hundreds of miles from the familiarities of London, where she befriends Min, and they soon become inseparable friends.
Weaved throughout are undertones of danger and cruelty as it becomes perfectly clear how hard life was for children of this era. Goodhart displays the exploitation of children, issues of slavery and racial discrimination in a very sensitive way which doesn’t feel explicit or harrowing. Snippets of Polly’s own thoughts and feelings on these injustices are a touching insight into the pain and anguish these children endured.
Pippa Goodhart has done a phenomenal job of highlighting the brutality of child labour. Simultaneously, she demonstrates the very real and relevant emotions of young girls, which makes it a perfect read for any child coming of age.
“You, young lady, are a free citizen of your country, in spite of having physical similarities with those who were enslaved in the past.”
Why would your child enjoy it?
As a teacher, I especially appreciated the Historical Afterword which explains the source and inspiration for the story and it’s characters. This chapter feels like a story in of itself and is a real treat at the end. For younger readers, this is a brilliant learning opportunity and conversation piece.
I’m grown woman, with some life experience and a relatively responsible job, and I’m not ashamed to say it gives me great comfort to witness a young girl who initially is dealt such a terrible hand in life, end up with a settled and full life eventually. And I imagine the tweens that go on to read this will feel the same level of contentment.
“Because life doesn’t always come together neat and orderly.”
I devoured this in under five days because every aspect of the narrative made reading an equally pleasant and addictive experience.
Whilst aimed at younger readers, I genuinely feel this story could and should be enjoyed by every generation. The social and historical lessons learned are invaluable and it’s certainly one that I’ll be passing on to my own friends and family.