Apr 23, 2015

Book Review: Jam and Roses by Mary Gibson

Three sisters are growing up in 1920s Bermondsey - the larder of London - with its bustling docks, its spice mill, tannery and factories.
Southwells jam factory is where many of the girls work. And Milly Colman knows she's lucky. At Southwells she can have a laugh with her mates. She's quick and strong and never misses a day's work. She needs to be. Because at homes things are very different.
The Colman household is ruled by the tyrannical rages of the old man - her father. Often Milly feels she is the only thing protecting her mother and younger sisters from his murderous violence. At least autumn hop-picking in Kent gives all the Colman women a heavenly respite.
But it is here, on one golden September night, that Milly makes the mistake of her life and finds her courage and strength tested as never before.

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Milly's most unhappy place is home, because her father is a dangerous drunk. Even though she loves her sisters dearly they don't get along too well. They're always stressed, because they have to be watchful all the time. Milly wants to protect her mother and sisters, but she can't be at home all the time. She's working at the Southwells jam factory. Her wages are needed to put food on the table, but secretly Milly dreams of being a dressmaker. Because her father spends most of his wages at the pub it isn't easy to keep themselves fed and clothed. 

Milly's father is always trying to mess up her plans and her dreams. And one night she makes a big mistake with a man who isn't the man she wants to end up with at all. She has to find a way to make life work without having to rely on a husband as she doesn't want to marry a man like her father. Fortunately Milly is strong and resourceful. Even though her troubles are far from over she always manages to find a way to deal with them. Does that also mean she will eventually find a way to handle her father?

Jam and Roses is a beautiful story about a girl who wants to live no matter what her circumstances are. She's poor, but that doesn't mean she can't be happy. She tries to make something of her life and even though it's often tough she lives for the happy moments. I loved that about Milly. She's such a wonderful woman. She has her faults and she tries to deal with them. She isn't perfect, but she's strong and she's fabulous. Family is everything to her and she does whatever she can to protect the people she loves. 

This is such an impressive story. It must have been really hard to be a 1920s factory girl. If working in the fields feels like a holiday then life must have been really tough. I loved the way Mary Gibson describes Milly's life. She shows the reader how things worked back then in a realistic and unromanticised way. Milly isn't afraid to work and she thinks men are her equals, but not every man in her life is willing to accept that. She finds a way to deal with the people who are giving her trouble time after time. For me that was the best part of the book, Milly's endless resilience is so inspiring and it's the heart of this amazing story. 


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