In the great tradition of Dickens, British author Gavin mines English history, contrasting 18th-century city life with that of country estates, the wealthy classes with the poverty-stricken. Parallel plots develop as the author introduces charismatic Otis Gardiner, nicknamed the "Coram man" for his role in taking unwanted children off of the hands of rich and poor alike, and his simpleton son, 14-year-old Meshak. But Otis's nickname, taken from a nobler man than he (an actual historic figure, Captain Thomas Coram, who opened a hospital for abandoned children in 1741), is unearned; readers discover as the novel progresses just how he disposes of his charges. Meanwhile, another story emerges surrounding 13-year-old Alexander, on scholarship as a chorister at the Gloucester Cathedral, and heir to the Ashbrook estate. Making brilliant use of an omniscient narrator, the author moves easily in and out of various characters' points of view, most notably that of the emotionally unstable Meshak, whose moral compass points somewhere shy of North, but whose heart is in the right place. Alexander's and Meshak's romantic leanings toward the same young woman thicken the plot. Gavin paints low-life characters every bit as seductively as the high-society variety, and never shows her hand as the disparate threads of her narrative join together into a seamless whole. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This lush, layered, textured historical novel is set in eighteenth century England. Otis Gardner is known as "the charity man" because along with his business of selling pots and pans, he also acquires and disposes of unwanted children. Rather than taking the orphans to the famed Coram Hospital in London, often Gardiner simply buries the babies, whether dead or alive. This is the only life his simpleminded, fourteen-year-old son, Meshak, has ever known. Another prong of the story introduces us to Alexander and Thomas, two aspiring musicians who come from different backgrounds. Alexander's passion for musiche studies with Handelis not compatible with his role as heir to a large estate. Nor is his passion for Melissa suitable for the kind of wife his father has in mind for him. The story spans eight years, introduces numerous well-drawn characters, and details the seedy side of 1740s England with a deft touch. With humor, coincidence and plot twists reminiscent of Dickens, Jamila Gavin, in her first U.S. published novel, weaves a dark and captivating tale with a social message that follows in the best tradition of historical fiction. 2000, Farrar Straus and Giroux, $19.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
I believe that this book accurately portrays the lifestyle orphans lived back in the mid-1700s, and it reminded me of the story in Oliver Twist with all the adventures and misadventures. I would recommend this book to those readers who like historical fiction and readers above the age of twelve. VOYA CODES:5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written;Broad general YA appeal;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, 336p, $19. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer:Daniela Bill, Teen ReviewerVOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
In the grand tradition of Charles Dickens (or even John Jakes), East Indian born author Jamila Gavin takes on the horrors of both class and poverty in this sweeping historic novel set in 1741 England. Otis Gardiner, nicknamed the "Coram Man," is a wicked, sadistic person dedicated to his own self-interests and the acquisition of wealth and evil powers. His business is the unapologetic disposal and trade of unwanted or abandoned children—a practice Gavin says was widespread in poverty-stricken eighteenth century England. Fourteen-year-old Meshak is his tender but dimwitted son, the "Coram Boy." As the chapters progress, we bare witness to the sheer cruelty of Gardiner's profession. Though he often promises to transport unwanted infants to the Coram Hospital, a home for foundlings, he is not a man of his word. More often, he sells "valuable" children into indentured service and buries infants alive when they offer no economic promise. We understand that this is a man and a time of little mercy. Meshak is trapped—opposed to his father's inhumanity, but dependent on his favor to survive. He seeks emotional sanctuary via gazing at the stained glass angels of the Gloucester Cathedral. Weaving in and out of diverse settings, Gardiner's occupation becomes a vehicle for complicated storylines and a wealth of robust characterizations. Pivotal to the plot is the plight of fifteen-year-old Alexander, heir to the Ashbrook estate. On scholarship at the Gloucester Cathedral as a chorister, Alexander's wealthy father does not approve of his musical ambition and insists he abandon it. The teen runs away from his studies and his father, with little thought for Melissa, his young lover heavy with his child.When Otis Gardener agrees to dispose of the unwanted newborn, Meshak can no longer watch without action. He has observed Melissa and Alexander, and has come to imagine the young woman as a real-life counterpart to the angels of Gloucester Cathedral. So he spirits baby Aaron away in secret and delivers him to a foundling home, where he grows to reveal musical talents of his own. As the novel closes, Gavin deftly knits the subplots together. As apt to please historical fiction fans of all ages, Gavin's fourteenth novel was named the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year for 2000 after its original British release. 2001, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pages,
Kelly Milner Halls
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2001: This prize-winning British novel deals with a nasty and brutish facet of life in 18th-century Englandinfanticide and child slavery. It is based on fact: in 1741, a well-intentioned sea captain named Thomas Coram set up an institution for foundling children, and women of all classes, rich and poor, vied to have their unwanted children taken in there to be raised and trained for work. In this long but engrossing novel, an unsavory peddler takes advantage of such women, promising to take their babies to the Coram Hospital for a fee, but instead burying most of the little bodies by the roadside. His son Meshak, an awkward, simple boy, reluctantly assists him, but when Meshak falls in love with a pretty teenaged girl he spies on from afar, he leaves his father, rescues the girl's illegitimate son when he is born, and takes the infant off to be raised as a Coram boy. This boy, Aaron, is the son (unknown to him) of a young nobleman who has run away from his family to become a musician. Son and father are reunited when as an eight-year-old the boy's musical talent leads him to be apprenticed to the father, now a composer. Despite the evil machinations of the peddler, now a rich and influential man still in the business of buying children for nefarious purposes, the boy and his parents finally find each other and true love prevails. This complex plot with its dramatic twists and turns will draw in YA readers, for the horror of the events described (it begins with the infanticides), for the teenage romance of the would-be musician and the pretty girl and his rebellion against his family's demands, and for her terrible dilemmawhen she finds herself alone and pregnant. An interesting subplot deals with a young African boy, a friend of Aaron's. A rich Gothic tale for lovers of historical fiction. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sunburst, 327p., Ages 15 to adult.
Gr 7-9-Mystery, romance, horror, and adventure overlap in this story set in England in 1741. It begins with the brutal work of the "Coram man," a shady character who deals in unwanted children, whom he either abandons, buries, or sells into slavery. Accompanying this evil man is his son, Meshak, who appears to be slow-witted, but who has witnessed the horrifying nature of his father's work. One night, the boy rescues a baby born to Melissa, whom Meshak calls "his angel," and spirits the infant away to the Coram Hospital, a home for abandoned children. A separate story line involves teenaged Alexander, the baby's aristocratic father who is unaware of his son's existence, and his friend Thomas, raised in poverty. Alexander has pursued a career in music, which causes him to be disinherited from his family's fortune. Readers also follow the story of Melissa and Alexander's son, Aaron, who at age eight leaves the orphanage and is apprenticed to a musician, and his black friend, Toby, who is unknowingly apprenticed to the evil Coram man, now disguised as a wealthy pillar of society. Only when Aaron discovers his own musical abilities do the narratives begin to mesh. The author skillfully weaves the various threads together, and the characters are well drawn. While the obscure subject matter and the relatively slow beginning might deter some readers, those who stick with the compelling story will be rewarded with story lines that come together neatly and build suspense until the end.-Kristen Oravec, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Strongsville, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This historical novel, winner of the 2000 Whitbread Award, deals with one of the more lurid and fascinating bits of English history. In 18th-century England, a man makes his living disposing of the unwanted children of both rich and poor women. Sometimes he sells them into slavery, sometimes he kills them, and sometimes he blackmails the mothers for years thereafter. He even abuses his own son Meshak, a simpleminded lad. Meshak, who is quite literally haunted by the babies he has helped to bury in ditches throughout the countryside, rescues one special abandoned child: the illegitimate newborn of a young woman whom he has worshipped from afar. He takes the baby to the Coram Hospital, where he is named Aaron, raised as an orphan, and exhibits a prodigious talent for music, encouraged by none other than George Frideric Handel. Years later, the paths of all the participants of the drama-Meshak, his villainous father, the illegitimate child, the child's parents-intersect with electrifying consequences. For when the participants in the original tragedy gather together, "there was not just one truth, because there was not one person there who knew the whole of it." This of course lends the plot structure considerable tension as the readers watch the characters try to unravel things. In her Preface, the author gives historical background regarding the infanticide and child slavery of the era, and the real historical character, Captain Thomas Coram, who devoted much of his life to establishing the Foundling Hospital where abandoned children would be sheltered. The historical setting is presented in enough detail to set the stage but not overwhelm readers with no previous background andknowledge. This is the stuff of high melodrama, and readers of the genre who will be swept along by the theatrics will not be disappointed. (Fiction. 11-16)