Mary Finn’s life slowly changes with the death of her mother. At first, her father relies on 13-year-old Mary to cook, clean and raise her brothers and sister. However, all bets are off when he marries a woman whom Mary doesn’t like and whom she refers to as “that Margaret Huckle”; the feeling is mutual. Her stepmother soon finds employment for her in a household where she can earn some money for the family. Once Mary is out in the world, circumstances take her further away from her family and closer to love, and finally, heartbreak.
I’ve never been a cover girl, but as I was out perusing the shelves in a half-hearted attempt to make it through my book excursion without picking up anything new, I saw Folly, and I was just so curious about this girl and what her story might be. Confirming my suspicions that this was a historical fiction/young adult novel made the purchase of this book a foregone conclusion. I had to have it. Needless to say, I didn’t leave the bookstore with any less than 6 books. Anyway. I am glad that my impulse shopping led me to this book because I loved Mary’s journey from a simple country girl to a scullery maid in a wealthy household.
The novel, which has a bit of a mystery element around it, alternates between four perspectives in two different periods. There are Mary and Eliza (another maid) and their points of view in the years surrounding 1877, which alternate with chapters from James and Oliver who reside in The Foundling Hospital in 1884. The reader doesn’t know at first how the characters and the times connect, but it is easily figured before you have read to the halfway point of the novel. I don’t think the author intended for it to be a secret and it in no way diminishes the rest of the unfolding. It increases the tension of the novel since you want to know how it all ends.
Jocelyn’s Folly is rich in period details, and I liked getting to know the routines at the Foundling Hospital, where James is undergoing his training and education and where Oliver teaches. His relationships with Mama Peevey and Oliver are touching, and Jocelyn excels at capturing the attitude, behavior, and thoughts of the young boy. James is a list maker, like me, so I enjoyed reading his lists through the story. Mary’s responsibilities in the household put her in the sights of the lascivious Mr. Bates and in trouble with Eliza who loves him. Navigation within this world can be treacherous, and it is even more so when Mary meets Caden Tucker, the young soldier to whom she gives her heart.
I loved these characters. Well most of them, anyway. Some were rotten, but I was touched by their dilemmas, their ups, and downs. Jocelyn’s writing is so clear and accessible. She paints such a vivid portrait of 19th century London and the harsh lives that are being led. I could not turn away. The story is vivid and emotional, and though a little sad I was captivated throughout.