Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper (Published by Bloomsbury, February 1, 2011)
The year is 1861 in London. Fifteen-year-old Grace Parkes and her older sister, Lily, live a life of hardship, struggling every day just to earn enough money to buy food. Their father disappeared long ago and their mother died while they were still very young. Though she is the older sister, Lily has the mind of a child and so Grace must look after her. The two girls were safe in an orphanage for a few years but once they had to leave one misfortune had followed another. As the novel begins, Grace has just given birth to a stillborn baby boy. Though the pregnancy was forced upon her she still grieves the baby that never got a chance to live, and so she takes him to Brookwood, a lovely and peaceful cemetary outside London, so that he can have a proper burial.
At Brookwood, Grace meets two people who will change her life in the coming months. One is James Solent, a handsome young lawyer's clerk. He offers to help Grace if she ever needs assistance. The other is Mrs. Unwin, who along with her husband owns one of the largest funeral businesses in London. Mrs. Unwin offers Grace a job as a "mute" - a girl who is paid to stand at funerals wearing black and looking sad. Grace is horrified by the idea, but when she and Lily lose their home she has no other choice. Unknown to Grace, however, is that she and Lily are heirs to a large fortune left behind by their father, who died in America. The Unwins know, however, and have an evil plan to steal the fortune from the two girls. Will Grace discover the truth in time and find a way to save herself and her sister?
Fallen Grace is an excellent young adult historical novel with a unique story that has very Gothic feel to it. I had not known anything about the Victorian funeral trade before reading this book so I learned a lot. I was surprised by how extravagant the funerals of the rich were! Grace was a very likeable main character. She suffered through one terrible hardship after another, far more than many people could endure, yet she managed to stay strong through it all. I would highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction or who have read and enjoyed other books by Mary Hooper.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.