In 1913 a four year old girl is boarded on a ship bound for Australia. When the ship reaches its Australian port, it is clear the girl has been abandoned and that no one is there to meet her. The port master and his wife take in the little girl, name her Nell and raise her as their own. On the night of Nell's twenty-first birthday her father reveals to her the family secret and her world, her identity, her family, her life and her future are irrevocably altered.
At the center of the book is the mystery of Nell's identity and life prior to boarding the ship. Eventually Nell follows the mystery all the way to England to find the answers to the questions about her parentage and of how she came to be on that ship alone in 1913. While Nell makes remarkable headway in solving the mystery in 1975, circumstances at home conspire to keep her in Australia and Nell goes to her grave without ever knowing her true origins and why she was sent on a ship to Australia. In 2005 upon her death Nell's granddaughter Cassandra is told of her inheritance of a remote cottage in the Cornish countryside of England--a cottage that Cassandra never knew Nell owned. Now it is up to Cassandra to pursue the missing pieces of the puzzle and when the complete picture is finally assembled it is more twisted and heartbreaking than she could have ever imagined.
Morton relates the story from alternating points of view--each chapter switches between 1913, 1975 and 2005; each one revealing a little more the mystery of the family Nell never knew. It is a story of family secrets, cruel manipulations, and, in the end, of resolution and redemption. For Cassandra, solving her grandmother's mystery will lead her back to the land of the living and help heal the grief of a personal tragedy suffered a decade ago.
Although the story is slow moving at first, once the reader reaches the thick of it, it will be hard to put down. While the switching off of time periods illuminates the story from other character perspectives and serves to connect the reader as much to the events occurring in the far distant past as those in the present of the book, I still found this plot device irritating.
This book is available upon request from Myerstown Community Library, Annville Free Library and Lebanon Community Library. It can also be found in adult fiction at Matthews Public Library.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie