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Book Review: Forgetting Tabitha and Lily Cigar

So far the books I’ve reviewed on my blog have been ones that I recommend, that I enjoyed reading, and that I benefited from reading.  But today I am going to review to books that I DON’T recommend reading because I did not find them beneficial.  As you will see, I felt more strongly about one than about the other.

The first one I want to review (which I actually read after the other one) is called Forgetting Tabitha: The Story of an Orphan Train Rider by Julie Dewey.  You know the old adage of “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  Yeah.  It still holds true.  This book looks totally innocent.  I mean look at that sweet little face.  And the story must be about a little orphan girl who rides the orphan train, right?  In fact, the summary on Amazon even leads us to believe that is what the book is about.

Well, the first half of the book is about the orphan trains.  The author does a good job of portraying the horrors of life for orphans and the poor and immigrant population in New York City in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  Ms. Dewey also adequately describes the orphan trains, their purpose, and life for the children who rode the trains.  She also does an admirable job of pointing out the importance of living in families.

Then suddenly in the second half of the book, it becomes full of all sorts of sexual descriptions and horrible sexual atrocities.  The author may argue that it was necessary to the story, but really, it didn’t need to be described in such detail.  It wasn’t even titillating; it was just awful, especially when one of the characters is horribly raped.

Also, in the second half of the book, the writing style changed and became confusing and bizarre.  In the first half of the book, Tabitha tells the story in her voice.  Then suddenly all these other characters are telling the story in their voice and every chapter jumps around to somebody else talking, even characters who play a minor role.  It just feels really disjointed and it feels like the author suddenly finished writing about the orphan train and now she didn’t feel like the book was long enough and so she started writing all sorts of crazy sexual stuff in a different writing style.

And finally, there are things that just don’t jive with the era.  Tabitha is adopted into a middle class family in Binghamton, NY during the Victorian era.  She becomes pregnant though unwed (who’s surprised with all the sex!?) and her parents are just very accepting and understanding and discussions are going on about having a very public and fancy wedding with her obviously pregnant.  Ummmm, in a middle class family in the Victorian era?  I don’t think so.  It just felt very 2013 (date of publication) to me.  And then one of the characters is creating all this soap and oils and so on.  OK, I know our grandmothers made their own soap and knew a lot about herbs, so this didn’t feel quite so out of the era, but it also seemed to be written by somebody living in 2013 who is very into essential oils.

The book certainly doesn’t meet the criteria laid out in Philippians 4:8 – whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  This book contains some truth, but that’s about it.

One thing I learned is to read the reader reviews on Amazon before I order a book for my kindle!  So many people made comments like “I was going to get this book for my teenagers to read to learn about an important part of our history.  Am I ever glad I read it first!”

The second book, which isn’t as easy to review, was called Lily Cigar by Tom Murphy.  Interestingly, it took place in the same time period and is also about an orphan.  This book is well-written and gives some good insight into the history of our country at the point in time.  The author does a good job of keeping his writing believable for the era.  The story is about a girl who is orphaned, is then raised in a Catholic orphanage, as a young teenager goes to work in the home of one of New York’s nouveau riche, becomes pregnant by the son of the family of that home, is sent to San Francisco with money to start a new life, loses the money, and ends up as a prostitute to support herself and her daughter.  She hates prostitution, but becomes rich through it, gets out of prostitution, buys a ranch, and marries the love of her life.  Thankfully it is written in a way that is not sappy, but could believably be somebodies life story.  Even after she marries, her life is not always easy or beautiful.

The reason I hesitate to recommend this book is, again, the sex scenes.  Thankfully there are only about three that I skipped over (hit that fast-forward button!).  So, that was about nine pages out of 602 pages.  I just think the story could have been well-told without going into so much detail.  Also, the book is definitely for a mature audience as it deals with prostitution.  In fact, it shows how many women get into prostitution as a last result and leaves you sympathetic towards women who have found themselves in that situation.  Unfortunately the author seemed to me to give the impression that men will be men and they need prostitutes. 

This book has a lot of merit to it, but I certainly couldn’t just recommend it without giving fair warning.  Also, it is 602 pages.  Really.  I think the story could have been shortened in places.  A lot of times the author repeated things such as Lily was upset about a certain thing, but he would go on and on, and I’d already gotten the idea she was upset.

Judging the book through Philippians 4:8, how did we do?  This book is more of a mixed bag.  Many things in the book are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable…but there are so many things that could have been left out of the story that aren’t true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable.  I understand that the author is coming from an entirely different world view than my own, but that is another reason I cannot recommend this book to just anybody.  It’s easy to read books like this and let your world view change to conform to world views that don’t really honor God or the people He’s created.

Because when it comes right down to it, descriptions of sex in literature are not necessary.  Sex is a beautiful gift given by God to be shared by one man and one woman.  And it’s a private gift so I just really don’t need to read details about anybody else’s sexual life.

So, take it from me.  Don’t waste your money on these two books.  Also, there were two other books I downloaded for free whose covers and descriptions sounded innocent enough, but I got only a few pages into them and decided to delete them right away.   (I don’t remember what they were now.) Unfortunately, I was well into these books before they got bad.  Another word of advice, reading the customer reviews helps....sometimes.  

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