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Summary and book reviews of The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick

The Girls with No Names

by Serena Burdick

The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick X
The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick
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  • Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A beautiful tale of hope, courage and sisterhood, inspired by the real House of Mercy and the girls confined there for daring to break the rules.

Growing up in New York City in the 1910s, Luella and Effie Tildon realize that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. But when the sisters discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen elder sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases. Her rebellion comes with consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone.

Effie suspects her father has sent Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. But she made a miscalculation, and with no one to believe her story, Effie's own escape seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on their tenuous friendship to survive. This atmospheric, heartwarming story explores not only the historical House of Mercy, but the lives—and secrets—of the girls who stayed there.

CHAPTER ONE
Effie

Luella and I carved our place in the world together. More accurately, my sister carved and I followed, my notches secured inside the boundary of hers. She was older, courageous and unpredictable, which made it a natural mistake.

"Luella?" I called, afraid my sister would lose me.

"I'm right here," I heard, only I couldn't see her.

A moonless night had swallowed the woods of the upper Manhattan isle that we knew so well in daylight. Now we were stumbling, running blindly, bumping into one tree, turning and bumping into another, our hands held out in front of us, everything foreign and out of shape.

From the depths of my blindness, my sister grabbed my arm and yanked me to a halt. I gasped for breath, my heart rattling my whole body. There wasn't a star in the sky. My sister's hand on my arm was the only proof I had that she stood next to me.

"Are you all right? Can you breathe?" she asked.

"I'm fine, but I hear the creek."

"I know," Luella groaned.

It meant we...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you believe Effie's heart condition was a strength or weakness? How did this condition affect her relationships? How do you view Effie's attachment to her sister versus her attachment to her mother?
  2. Do you resent Luella, or blame her for what happened? What societal conventions was she fighting against, and do you think as she was justified in this fight? Were her actions selfish, or defensible?
  3. Jeanne's relationship to Effie was complex, ranging from clingy to detached. What do you think her psychological state of mind was raising a child she was told would not survive? How do you think a mother might cope living year to year in this unknown? How did this affect Jeanne's relationship with Luella and her husband Emory?
  4. Jeanne's ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Girls with No Names is certainly not a thriller in the conventional sense, but well-placed twists, heavy emotional beats, and an ever-quickening pace lend the book the gripping feel of a page-turner. Though the inherent cruelty of the world these characters inhabit can make this an upsetting read at times, there is a consistent presence of hope and resilience...continued

Full Review Members Only (587 words).

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The Girls With No Names concludes in crescendo so fever-pitched that the last page seems to come too soon. Nevertheless, Burdick has spun a cautionary tale of struggle and survival, love and family — and above all, the strength of the heart, no matter how broken.

Kirkus Reviews
Burdick is especially adept at slowly revealing the motivation of the ominous figures around Effie and Mable while ratcheting up both the girls' vulnerability and courage. A spellbinding thriller for fans of Gilded Age fiction.

Publishers Weekly
Told from the alternating points of view of Effie; her mother, Jeanne; and Mable, the narrative combines lush prose with a quick and riveting plot. Readers will be intensely moved by this historical.

Booklist
Burdick’s carefully researched narrative shines a light on the untold stories of countless real women, and fans of Joanna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls will be consumed by the fast-paced plot and well-characterized, sympathetic girls at the novel’s heart.

Library Journal
Burdick's story, sometimes lyrical, sometimes starkly realistic, explores the dark repercussions of family secrets and the drive for love and acceptance. A well-plotted story with an excellent sense of time and place. Readers looking for historical fiction with emotional depth will enjoy.

Author Blurb Whitney Scharer, author of The Age of Light
I'm shocked I'd never heard of The House of Mercy, the asylum for fallen women at the center of Serena Burdick's beautiful novel. Burdick expertly weaves together the stories of women affected by the asylum, telling a mesmerizing tale of strength, subterfuge, and the unbreakable bond between sisters.

Author Blurb Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Letter and In Another Time
Filled with true historical details about life inside a work house for wayward girls in the 1910s, The Girls with No Names is a beautifully written, haunting novel. Burdick gorgeously portrays womanhood and coming-of-age set against the backdrop of the real House of Mercy, but above all, she weaves a stunning story of sisters, friendship, secrets, and ultimately survival. I fell in love with the courageous Effie and Mabel and will not soon forget their stories.

Reader Reviews

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

You Won't Be Able To Put The Book Down - Elizabeth @Silver's Reviews
Effie and Luella lived a privileged life and had to conform to all the strict rules set upon women in the 1910's including being sent away. Effie was the sister who had a health problem, and Luella was the sister who was beautiful. Both behaved, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Women's Suffrage in Early 20th Century America

Women marching for suffrage, 1915Serena Burdick's The Girls with No Names is set amidst a quiet yet fierce swell of social unrest that builds as we move towards the book's climax. Though the official inception of the US suffrage movement is typically traced back to a women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, it reached a fever pitch in the early 1900s. Finally crossing into mainstream public consciousness, the campaign could no longer be ignored by the men who preferred women to be seen and not heard.

Early women's rights activism had been focused largely on the desire for social autonomy and improved working conditions, with women increasingly taking to the streets in female-only strikes and marches. With male politicians proving apathetic ...

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