Historical Fiction Book Review: Searching for You

Publisher's Description

"Despite years on the run, Sophie Neumann is determined to care for two young children. She won't abandon them the way she thinks her older sisters abandoned her. But times are growing desperate, and when she falls in with the wrong crowd and witnesses a crime, she realizes fleeing 1850s New York is her only option.

Disappearing with her two young charges into a group of orphans heading west by train, Sophie hopes to find safety and a happy life. When the train stops in Illinois for the first placement of orphans, Sophie faces the most difficult choice of her life.

Reinhold Weiss has finally purchased his own small farm. With mounting debts, a harvest to bring in, and past scars that haunt him, he's in no position to give his heart away . . . but can he say no when his long-lost friend shows up on a nearby train pleading for his help?"

Click here to purchase a copy of this novel for yourself. 

My Review

Searching for You, by Jody Hedlund, is the third and final book in the Orphan Train series. Even though I haven’t yet read the first two books in the series, I had no trouble jumping right into this story and enjoying it thoroughly. If you’re like me and haven’t had a chance to read the two novels that preceded Searching for You, don’t let that stop you from reading this book as soon as possible!
Searching for You is an engaging novel that is well-researched, skillfully written, and thoroughly filled with heart and hope. From start to finish, this book captivated my attention. The settings, characters, and themes are engrossing and relevant. The characters are very well-developed, and they possess an authentic vulnerability that makes them utterly relatable and unforgettable. Their struggles, insecurities, and fears are truly believable, and I often had to remind myself I was reading a work of fiction.

Searching for You is a story of faith, hope, second chances, and new beginnings. It is a novel that artfully balances hope and despair, perseverance and struggle, and faithfulness and uncertainty. With great skill, Ms. Hedlund explores shame, rejection, and loss. Yet, this journey through and beyond hurt and heartache is significantly strengthened and uplifted by meaningful moments of grace and gentle reminders that forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and restoration are made possible through the reality of God’s mercy and unconditional love.

Searching for You is tender, emotionally stirring, and ultimately uplifting. It is a novel that I will not soon forget. The impact it has had on my thoughts and on my heart is sure to be a lasting one. Searching for You is thought-provoking and moving, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. 

*I was given a copy of this novel from the publisher. A review was not required. The review I have written contains opinions that are entirely my own.

My Reflection 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are powerful themes within Searching for You. Yet, this novel does not diminish the frustrations and uncertainties the characters must endure as they struggle to heal, recover, forgive, and restore. The characters wrestle with their assumptions and their choices. They face consequences from their decisions and actions. As they persevere through trials, they become more tender-hearted, more compassionate, and more gracious towards themselves and others. Ultimately, their faith grows as they learn to trust that their uncertain future is held securely in the hands of a loving, merciful God. 

The historical realities and situations presented in Searching for You reflect meaningfully upon the fact that God is the ultimate restorer who can fashion beautiful things out of the broken and damaged pieces of our lives. With unconditional love and infinite grace, he softens and heals painful memories and experiences, redeeming them and remaking them into moments that yield purpose and value. I found it very profound and thought-provoking to journey with the characters in this book as they found the healing, forgiveness, and restoration which their hearts so desperately needed.

About the Author

"Jody Hedlund is the author of over twenty historicals for both adults and teens and is the winner of numerous awards including the Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Award.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats." --Biography from Jody Hedlund's author page on Amazon.com

Book-Related Q & A with Author Jody Hedlund

What is the inspiration behind your orphan train series?

I have long been fascinated by the era of the Orphan Trains and the heart-wrenching stories of the homeless and helpless young orphans that were taken from eastern cities and shipped west by the dozens. I was familiar with stories of those scared orphans who were placed out in what was thought to be a more wholesome, healthy environment of the newly settled Mid-Western states. Some of the orphans found happy endings and were adopted into loving families. Others experienced great abuse and heartache in their new homes.

While stories of the orphans who rode the trains have been told—and rightly so—the stories of the women who were involved in the movement are not as well known. One of the things I particularly like to do when telling my stories, is focus on women who have been overlooked by the pages of history. I consider it a great privilege to be able to bring forgotten women to life for our modern generation. Thus, throughout this series, I’ll be focusing each book on a different aspect of the Orphan Train movement, particularly from the perspective of women who experienced riding the trains in one form or another.

How did you come up with the idea for the third book in the series, Searching For You?
With You Always, the first book in the series, centers around adult women who rode the orphan trains in a special limited placement for homeless and jobless women. The second book, Together Forever, depicts the orphan train experience through the eyes of placing agents who worked for the Children’s Aid Society.
Since the first two books view the orphan train movement from the lenses of grown women, in the third book I wanted to find a way to give the perspective directly from an orphan. However, in my initial planning, I wasn’t quite sure how to pull off an orphan’s view since my heroines are always adults.
As I wrestled through how to accomplish this third perspective, I crafted a young woman who was coming of age and could pose as one of the older orphan train children who were in high demand because of their ability to help contribute to the heavy workloads of families struggling to survive in the farming communities of the Mid-West.

Is Searching For You a stand-alone or does it tie in with the other books in the series?
Each of the three books involves one of the Neumann sisters introduced in the free ebook novella, An Awakened Heart. While the novella and the full length novels can be read as a stand-alones, I suggest reading them in order, especially to have a greater appreciation for each sister’s journey as well as to make the third book more meaningful.

What special research did you do in writing Searching For You?
I gleaned a great deal of valuable information from a well-researched book, Orphan Trains, by Stephen O’Connor. He paints a vivid picture of what life was like for orphans in the nineteenth century in the immigrant slums of New York City. He says that between twenty to thirty percent of children became orphans before the age of fifteen. That’s roughly one in four children.
A large number of children were considered “half-orphans” because they’d lost one parent and the other wasn’t capable of providing for them adequately. If other relatives couldn’t help, the orphans ended up in asylums or living out on the street taking care of themselves. Asylums, like the Infant’s Hospital on Randall’s Island, typically lost around seventy percent of the children who went to live there due to unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
Overall, O’Connor’s book with its many stories of orphans and their experiences allowed me to ride the orphan trains with them and feel their fear, anxiety, excitement, and even sorrow.

What was the goal of the orphan train movement?
The Children’s Aid Society hoped to make a difference in the lives of children through what was called its “Emigration Plan” which is now known as the orphan train movement. Similar to the indenture system that had been used since the founding of the nation, the Emigration Plan sought to reform poor children by placing them in respectable homes where they would be influenced by godly Christian parents.
In exchange for a home and basic necessities, the children were expected to contribute to the family. Charles Loring Brace, the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, idealized country families, believing that the best homes were found in rural areas. He said, “The cultivators of the soil are in America our most solid and intelligent class.” Thus, the Emigration Plan worked relentlessly to take children away from the “evil” vices of the city and place them in the more wholesome influences of the country.

What challenges did you face in writing this particular story?
The placements weren’t always as ideal as the Children’s Aid Society hoped. I attempted to portray a variety of types of placement, giving light to both the positive and negative situations the children faced. During my research, I found numerous stories of real children who rode the trains, were adopted into loving families, and grew up to appreciate their new homes and lives. I also read just as many tragic stories of children who didn’t fare well, were placed in multiple homes, were abused, and struggled to find fulfillment for the rest of their lives.

What do you hope readers take away from Searching For You?
I hope that readers gain a greater awareness of just how difficult a time the nineteenth century was for so many of our nation’s children. I also hope readers gain an appreciation for the many families who opened their homes and hearts to homeless children. May their example inspire us to do likewise.

Personal Q & A with Author Jody Hedlund

What essential ingredients do you strive for in your novels to ensure an authentic love story emerges?
I always try to incorporate the elements that I like to see in the romances I read. That includes deep emotions that are birthed out of a character's past. I also like to have a relationship that evolves organically throughout the book. I try not to have my characters being antagonistic to one another the whole book and then finally falling in love in the last chapter at the last minute. I want the couple to move from friendship to falling in love gradually and to have a growing attraction (with the sparks flying!) throughout the book.
At the same time, however, I don't like to have the love relationship resolve too early in the book. Readers don't want the "happily-ever-after" moment to come until the end. So while the relationship is developing, it's important to find ways to keep the couple from being fully together until the end.

What advice would you give to writing moms who are have their hearts set on publication?
It is possible to juggle being a mom and writing. It’s NOT easy, but it is possible! If we set aside a little bit of time to write every day and make ourselves just sit down and do it, then before we know it we’ll have completed the first chapter, then the first half of the book, and finally we’ll have a finished book in front of us.
My encouragement is to keep writing (and learning about writing!). Don’t stop with the first book. Move on to the next one. And the next one after that. It takes time to not only develop our writing skill but to also find our break-in book. 

What do you think is the most important quality it takes to be a successful author?
One of the key qualities in becoming a successful author is learning to be an enthralling and captivating storyteller. Writers can (and should!) work on improving their techniques—how to write good dialog, how to write tightly, how to develop their characters, etc.

But first and foremost, I think readers are looking for stories that blow them away. At least as a reader, that’s what I long for!

Is there something you tell yourself before writing?
Usually I tell myself to sit down, put my hands to the keyboard, and get to work. I don't wait for inspiration or magical fairy dust to hit me before writing. I just do it. Every day.
But I also always ask myself, what could make this story better? How can I increase the tension? How can add more excitement? What can I do to make my characters more likeable? I'm constantly challenging myself to make my story more vibrant and alive.

Searching For You is the fourth book you’ve released in 2018. How do you find time to write so many books?
Yes this year I’ve released FOUR books: two medieval young adult novels, A Loyal Heart and A Worthy Rebel, AND two orphan train novels, Together Forever and Searching For You.
In order to write four books a year, I plot out my writing schedule at the beginning of the year so that I know how much time I need to budget in for each book (including the first draft as well as editing). Once I have the overall schedule, then I figure out how many words to write every week in order to stay on track. 

If you had a whole day to relax (and anything is possible!) what would you do?
READ!! I absolutely love reading! When I find a really good book, I have a hard time tearing myself away from it to get to sleep.
What are you working on next?
I’m in the editing phase of the first book of a brand new series, A Reluctant Bride, which releases in June of 2019 (next summer). The series is inspired by several bride-ships that left England in the early 1860s and sailed to British Columbia in Canada where there was a shortage of women. When the first bride-ship arrived in Vancouver, hundreds of men lined the shores to greet them and be the first to find a bride.
As I was researching this fascinating era, questions kept surfacing. What kind of woman would join a bride-ship? Why would these women leave everything they knew to sail halfway around the world for the purpose of becoming brides to men they didn’t know? I hope you’ll join me in exploring the answers to these question as I delve into my new series.

Do you have any parting words?
I love hearing from readers! Make sure you stop by one of these places and say hello!
I hang out on Facebook here: Author Jody Hedlund
I also love to chat on Twitter: @JodyHedlund
My home base is at my website: jodyhedlund.com
Find me on Instagram: instagram.com/jodyhedlund/
Come pin with me on Pinterest: pinterest.com/jodyhedlund/pins/


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