Title: Fagin’s Girl
Author: Karen McCombie
Illustrator: Anneli Bray
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Genre: Older children’s/middle grade fiction, Historical
Book format: Paperback
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Description:  Orphan Ettie Shaw is all alone on the streets of London, with no home and no money.  Her luck changes when she runs into her long-lost brother, Joe, who wants to look after her.  But it’s tricky.  Joe now works for a man called Fagin, along with lots of other boys.  The only way Ettie can join him is if she disguises herself as a boy too.
At first Ettie doesn’t realise that Fagin’s gang are theives.  But soon Fagin demands that Ettie go out pickpocketing with Joe.  Will the truth – and danger – come between brother and sister?

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  This is a great story set in Victorian times although the ending was a bit abrupt for me.  Ettie lives in a small room with her mum and brother Joe.  Every day Ettie and her mum work long hours making flowers to put on top of ladies hats, while her brother Joe works at some stables.  But one day, when Joe has an argument with their mum he storms out and Ettie doesn’t see him again.  Five months later Ettie is homeless, until she meets her brother again who says she can come with him and work for Mr Fagin, the only problem is that Ettie is a girl, and the only way she can work for Fagin is if she pretends to be a boy.

Fagin's Girl book page image one
©The Strawberry Post

I really enjoyed this story from the start.  Ettie is a character I liked, narrating her story as she shows us how many poor people lived in Victorian times.  While her family’s circumstances used to be better, Ettie now lives in a small room with her mum and brother.  However after Joe storms out Ettie and her mum have to move to somewhere even smaller and soon something happens which results in Ettie eventually becoming homeless.  As the story progresses and Ettie reunites with Joe, they end up working for Mr Fagin.  I like how this story takes from the famous story by Charles Dickens.  I like the twist and how scary Fagin comes across.  I also like what happens with Ettie and Joe throughout the story, and how close the siblings are.  Unfortunately for me though the ending, though good, is the sort I’m not so keen on and I’ll explain why without trying to give any spoilers (but the following paragraph is as spoilery as it gets).

The ending of Ettie and Joe’s story stops abruptly after something happens and then we don’t find out what happened to the siblings after that moment, until the next and last chapter which suddenly jumps forward to modern times.  Ettie and Joe’s story is finished off by someone in present times explaining what happened to them.  I don’t mind a story that jumps into the future to explain more of what happened in the past, and I like how we eventually find out what happened to Ettie and Joe, but I have to say that I do prefer stories that finish off what happens in the past with a final chapter or words from the character who was narrating, rather than have an abrupt ending like this which just felt a little jarring.

The illustrations in this book are lovely and I have to say I love how all the characters look and how you can see the expressions on everyone well and can feel the atmosphere in each picture.  The illustrations appear throughout the book on various pages and are all in black, white and grey.  They help with reading the story as does the text which is larger than usual and uses a special dyslexia friendly font.  The paragraphs are also separated and each page of the book is on a thick yellow coloured paper which makes it easier to read for dyslexics or others with visual problems.  The book is also around 100 pages long which makes it a great and short read for reluctant readers too.

Fagin's Girl book page image two
©The Strawberry Post

At the end of the book there are author’s notes on each individual chapter, mentioning certain historical facts around what happens in each chapter.  I have to say I really enjoyed reading these as I didn’t know about the asparagus or what exactly happened to one character who was unwell.  Overall this is a good book and it does have a good ending.  The story, though fiction, is based on historical facts in the things that happen to some characters and the world around them.  I do like a book like this, especially as it helps children to learn more about the past and what has happened.  However, I just would have preferred to stay longer in Joe and Ettie’s world and I would have personally preferred another chapter narrated by Ettie, even in the form of a letter or something, before we jumped to the future to explain everything.

What do you think of this book?  Do you like historical fiction set in Victorian times?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂