From the opening lines I knew I was hooked. An Awakened Heart (An Orphan Train Novella) by Jody Hedlund is set in 1857. New York City is a hotbed of immigrant lives melding together to make sense of this new country that housed so many in so little space. People outnumbered jobs and housing was worse. Flimsy tenements couldn't be built fast enough. Families who dreamed of a better life were cast into disillusioned homes they shared with rats by night.
An Awakened Heart is the story of Christine Pendleton and Guy Bedell. He, an ordained minister preached a message of hope to the hopeless prostitutes. She, a wealthy single woman yearning for meaning in her life began to volunteer once a week at the Centre Street Chapel. Two people so far removed by ordinary standards yet in classic Jody Hedlund style come together as naturally as though he had stopped for tea in her parlor. The characters are complex and the writing is so descriptive you can almost picture yourself alongside the women sitting on the trestle benches for a Sunday service.
I found myself looking at the characters and wondering what would become of them. Young women wearing tattered clothes on bodies covered with the grime of poverty and shame. How can one sheltered young woman hope to encourage prostitutes to repent and rebuild their lives in an unforgiving city. One would almost think Miss Pendleton would have been trod on herself when coming to grips with the heart of this matter. With the stroke of a pen the author brought this woman to life in a very unexpected manner.
When the story ended I knew there was much more to come. This era is an important time in the history of our country. It was a time of hope dashed and dreams buried beneath the harsh reality of a country that wasn't quite ready for the possibilities that lay ahead. I liked this story. Sure, it is a romance but it is so much more than a romance. It is fiction you can change the names but these compelling characters could have been any one of our ancestors who came to this country and faced such trials. Thank God there were unsung heroes like Miss Pendleton and Reverend Bedell had the courage to work among the poor women of this difficult time in our country.
I can be allowed to be optimistic as I write this sitting on my side of history because I know the outcome of the hard work and resilience of those who came before me. I look forward to book one in the Orphan Train series, With You Always, coming June 6, 2017.