Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts is set from 1911 and ties in with the When Are You Reading? Challenge I am taking part in.
Sixteen year old Nellie Clark works in Pearce Duff’s custard factory in East London and with three younger siblings, her family depends on her wages. But when the factory women of Bermondsey go on strike in 1911, Nellie must decide where her loyalties lie. Whilst she and her family struggle to make ends meet, times get even more tough when the Great War breaks out. And as the young men get ready to fight for their country, Nellie and her friends wonder if they’ll ever see their male loved ones again.
Nellie is a brave, spirited female protagonist who I felt warmly towards. She is forced to grow up quickly and becomes a mother figure to her three younger siblings. Her family depends on her and she knows that she can’t abandon them. Whilst she does make some mistakes along the way, these help her to grow as a person. Nellie’s younger loyal sister, Alice, is also admirable in that she juggles caring for her siblings and maintaining the household, along with Nellie.
One of the themes of this book is poverty. It shines a light on the difficult and strenuous working conditions of the factory girls in 1911. Not to mention that the women got paid half the men’s wages. Indeed, poverty hangs over the Clark family like a spectre. Reading this novel made me realise how lucky people are, by comparison, in the modern-day. I’m not sure if I could cope with the hardships Nellie and her family are put through.
There’s also some romance as Nellie has two admirers who are very different from each other. Sam Gilbie has a heart of gold and is always there for Nellie. Ted Bosher, by contrast, is dangerous and holds extreme political views. Rivalry abounds between these two cousins, as well as bad blood.
Although one aspect of the story is fairly predictable, I did feel emotional during some key dramatic moments. This is an interesting story, made even more poignant because the author Mary Gibson drew inspiration from her grandparents’ real-life experiences. I received a great insight into how the women’s strike of 1911 and the First World War changed everything for everyone.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐