With You Always (2017) by Jody Hedlund is the first novel in her Orphan Train series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is 359 pages in length. With a full-time job and a precocious five-year old at home, With You Always took me three days to read. I purchased an eBook copy of this novel on June 23, 2017 from Amazon to review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I give this novel 5+++ STARS. With You Always is a Christian Historical Romance.
About the Book
Could following the opportunity of a lifetime cost them the love of their lives?
One of the many immigrants struggling to survive in 1850s New York, Elise Neumann knows she must take action to care for her younger sisters. She finds a glimmer of hope when the New York Children’s Aid Society starts sending skilled workers to burgeoning towns out west. But the promise of the society’s orphan trains is not all that it seems.
Born into elite New York society, Thornton Quincy possesses everything except the ability to step out from his brother’s shadow. When their ailing father puts forth a unique challenge to determine who will inherit his railroad-building empire, Thornton finally sees his chance. The conditions to win? Be the first to build a sustainable community along the Illinois Central Railroad and find a suitable wife.
Thrown together against all odds, Elise and Thornton couldn’t be from more different worlds. The spark that ignites between them is undeniable, but how can they let it grow when that means forfeiting everything they’ve been working toward?
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With You Always is the 9th novel I have read by Jody Hedlund. It will definitely not be the last! Jody Hedlund is a phenomenal writer and storyteller. I was captivated by Elise and Thornton’s story from chapter one, and struggled hard to put this book down. With You Always is incredibly fast-paced and thoroughly engaging. It has everything a reader looks for in great historical fiction: characters dealing with really difficult choices, witty banter, gritty historical accuracy, amazing romance that made my heart SO happy, a few villains who made my blood boil, some really excellent secondary characters, and a great message.
I love when I pick up a historical novel and actually walk away from it having learned something. Before this novel, I had never heard of The Children’s Aid Society, Charles Loring Brace, or the Orphan Trains. What a shocking, awful time in our history! From 1854-1929, children were removed from tenements and the streets of New York, and other slum areas, and shipped off to homes out “West” in an attempt to give them a better life. Some of these children were orphans who had no adults in their lives. Some of these children were given up by their parents who could no longer afford to feed and care for them, most of the time through no fault of their own. There are a few moments in With You Always where characters discuss the potential of having to give up their children, or do give up children, to The Children’s Aid Society. These moments really made my heart hurt. The pain the characters feel as they attempt to make the decision to leave their families behind to find work, or to give up children, is so real and palpable. There were several moments I had to work to keep the tears at bay. And, I made my daughter give me lots of extra cuddles. I can’t imagine having to make the decision to leave my family, or to give my daughter away. I am so grateful to God for my family’s protection from these truly awful and painful decisions.
Elise is 18, orphaned, and trying to keep her siblings safe and alive. She does make the decision to leave her siblings in the care of someone she trusts so she can move to where employment is. Hedlund does an excellent job of portraying Elise’s sense of guilt and failure at having to leave her siblings in order to find work elsewhere. Elise is an extremely hard worker, so she puts herself into the tasks given to her at her new job, but the niggling sense of guilt that she couldn’t be superwoman and work and care for her family all at the same time overwhelms her. Elise’s feelings are so true to life. I’m in a completely different situation and time period, but I often feel like a failure as a woman because I can’t do it all. Whether you are woman from 1410, 1854, or today, the world tells us we should be able to do it all. When we can’t — because it’s physically impossible! — we take it really hard. I appreciate Elise so much because I totally relate to how she feels in this book.
Thornton is wealthy beyond anything Elise, or I, can imagine. He is handsome, kind to a point, and totally “upper-class” brained. At first, I didn’t like Thornton too much. He is “silver-spoon” arrogant, and he treats humans below him in social stature as cheap labor. But, all this changes when he meets Elise. The BEST part of Thornton’s character is that he is willing to change. Watching his transformation over the course of the story is one of the best parts of this book. Elise holds no punches. She is witty and is not afraid to speak truth to Thornton even at the expense of her job. As he gets to know Elise better, she opens his eyes to the men and women who are in his employ. Instead of a cheap labor force, he begins to see just how hard they work for him and he realizes that he needs to become not just a better boss, but a better man. Of all the fictional relationships that I have read in my time, Elise and Thornton may be my most favorite fictional couple. They are sweet towards each other, which made my romance-lovin’ heart happy, but what I really love about them is that they make each other better humans. Isn’t that really the goal every couple should strive for?
There is SO much more to discuss with this book — I barely scraped the surface in this review! There is Thornton’s desperate need to please his father, and his eventual realization that the only father he needs to worry about is his Heavenly Father. There is Elise’s trust issues, and her ultimate awareness that running to God is the best option because running from God just makes life, which is already hard, that much harder. And, I didn’t even get to talk about the secondary characters. They are so multifaceted and wonderful. With You Always is jammed-packed with excellent things to discuss!!!
With You Always is an AMAZING story. I am so sad that my time with Elise and Thornton is over. I am really going to miss them! If you are looking for an excellently researched, beautifully written historical fiction to devour, then I HIGHLY recommend With You Always. You will not be sad you picked this book to read.