Jody Hedlund begins the story of Elise and her two sisters, young German immigrants in 1857 New York City, in the novella An Awakened Heart and then continues the story in WITH YOU ALWAYS, book one of the Orphan Train series. Technically this book isn't about the orphan children you normally associate with the term "orphan train." Instead the two stories concentrate on the poor working women of New York City who suffer when an economic downturn puts many of those working in the garment industry (tenement-centered sweat shops) out of work. Elise and her sisters are among those who find themselves out of work and out of a shelter. Even when they find help at a struggling mission, their future is unsettled and bleak. Elise is encouraged to travel west on a train taking women to Illinois for jobs in newly formed communities.
The realities of New York are harsh - despicable working conditions, meager pay, crowded tenements, forced prostitution, orphaned and abandoned children, but life in Illinois is no piece of cake. Pay is low and Elise fears she will never be able to pay her living expenses, pay back her train fare west, and send money back east to help her siblings. Elise encounters Thornton Quincy, a wealthy Easterner who has been challenged by his father to set up a new town in Illinois to prove his ability to take over the family business. While Elise does not know his true identity and status, she and Thornton ignite sparks that cannot be ignored. When she does learn more about the man, she challenges him to better understand the world of those he employs.
I've always enjoyed Jody Hedlund's historical works, and these two are a great start to a new series. I recommend readers take the time to read the novella. I scored a copy from Barnes and Noble at a super price. Miss Pendleton, the wealthy woman who gives up her own fortune to help the down-trodden women of NYC, is the main character of the novella, and I think she mirrors historical women of the late 19th Century who took stands to better the lives of immigrants and poor.
I obtained a copy of WITH YOU ALWAYS from our library system http://www.winnefox.org/
I am so lucky that many of the Christian authors I want to read are available through the library system.