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Bernie Dolby and his dominating wife Dolly run a café. As the story starts, their only waitress walks out, unable to cope with Dolly's bullying. Shortly afterwards, the job is taken by Pearl, a sixteen-year-old who grew up in an orphanage. She is meek and respectful, and gets along fairly well at first. Some rather seedy characters visit the cafe, but one of them takes Pearl under his wing, and she finds many of them to be warm-hearted under rather rough exteriors.

Nobody's Girl by Kitty Neale

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Set in London in the 1950s. Sixteen-year-old Pearl, who was abandoned as a baby, takes a job as a waitress, then gets caught up in violence and crime.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 544 Date: October 2007
Publisher: AVON
ISBN: 978-1847560056

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Unfortunately, Pearl falls for Kevin, who is Bernie and Dolly's lazy and selfish son. And although Kevin isn't interested in her at first, he gradually starts to notice her, much to Dolly's disapproval. Pearl has to make a very difficult decision, which hurts someone who cares for her deeply.

The story revolves around these people and their friends, set in the 1950s in South London. I found it very readable, on the whole, although there were some slightly irritating authorial asides in places. The background and conversation all seemed authentic, and although many of the people were somewhat caricatured, Pearl is a likeable girl on the whole. She has some faults, which she gradually acknowledges as she matures. It could be called a coming-of-age story; Pearl grows up in many ways during the book, although the time-frame is only about a year from start to finish.

So why only three stars? I had two main problems with the book. The lesser one is that it's very predictable. There's a prologue before the story opens, showing a baby abandoned on orphanage steps, by her angry grandfather. So it's fairly obvious that Pearl has a mother somewhere, who will probably turn up before the end of the novel. The clues to her identity are so clear that I felt no emotion at all by the time she and Pearl finally meet.

The same is true for several other situations that develop during the book. Perhaps there are too many different viewpoints. They tell us what other people are thinking and doing, meaning that when Pearl is surprised by something, I was merely relieved that she had finally found out what I knew several pages (sometimes several chapters) in advance. I don't mind knowing a little more than the main character from time to time, but this happened repeatedly through the book.

My bigger problem is that I felt there were far too many sordid situations covered. Kevin is involved in some shady enterprises, which are important for the overall plot of the book. But he also has an unpleasantly sadistic side which seemed entirely unnecessary. There's an even more horrific situation that develops mid-way through the book, featuring two very minor characters; it wasn't given graphic detail, thankfully, but I found myself wondering why it was in the book at all as it didn't do much for either the main characters or the overall plot. Then there is bullying, prostitution, kidnapping, rape, burglary, mental illness, attempted murder... I found it rather stressful having so much unpleasantness in one book.

Still, anyone who enjoys the gritty style of historical novel would probably like it. You might also like Tilly True by Dilly Court, or Little Girl Lost by Katie Flynn

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Buy Nobody's Girl by Kitty Neale at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nobody's Girl by Kitty Neale at


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