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The International Writers Magazine: Young Adult Fiction

The Double Life of Cora Parry
by Angela McAllister
Orion Children’s Books (Paperback Feb 2011)
ISBN-13: 978 1 84255 603 0
Hardback: ISBN-13: 978 1 444001518
Sam Hawksmoor review


There has been a host of Victorian or earlier Children’s fiction of late.  From Michelle Louric with The Mourning Emporium to Pastworld by Ian Beck, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice by Stephen Deas, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding, and a quite a few more besides, but The Double Life of Cora Parry does not paint the past as a cosy place where warm fires will toast your toes and cream buns delight your tummy.  This is a harsh, very real hungry past where, when after her adoptive parents die, a girl like Cora is tossed out of the only home she has ever known by an evil man who stands to inherit the house.  Cora perhaps imagined that the home would be hers after the funeral of the cruel woman who raised her and beat her often, but she is driven in a coach to the city and literally dumped outside the workhouse in a puddle.
            She refuses to go inside and suffer the indignity of slave labour, a place where her mother died of consumption and is instead found by a boy who is watching her keenly as she struggles to survive in the strange city.  The boy turns out to be a girl called Fletch and she is a Rooker, a thief and she means for Cora to be her assistant in the matter of thieving on account of her small neat hands.  Fletch is no ordinary girl either.  Big and strong, she lives in a slum where she is the lord of the room she occupies in the slum alley and the other lodgers are all beholden to her.  Cora hates this new life.  No food unless she steals or pawns for it, no hot baths, just a water pump in the yard and strange noisy, often drunken people all around her desperate for a foothold on this world.  She clings on to her only meagre possessions, sleeps on a shared filthy mattress with Fletch and wonders how on earth she will survive.
            Fletch isn’t bad, isn’t cruel, but Cora is an honest soul and hates thieving and deceiving.  She despises what she is becoming, seeking occasional refuge with young Joe and Mr Tally who help run a pawnshop.  Joe is illiterate and has a pet monkey called Pip who has the run of the pawn shop.  Cora pretends to him that she is a teacher and offers to teach him how to read, a pretence she finds hard to keep up as her clothes grow dirtier and tattier by the day.
            Fletch teaches her all the tricks of the rookin’ trade, but all the while Cora seeks an escape, applying for jobs doing anything in houses or restaurants, but all take one look at this small scruffy girl and say no.  She is given a crimson dress however and this provides the catalyst for a major transformation.
            Fletch is captured and imprisoned and Cora realises that everyone around her will starve unless she goes out to thieve to feed them.  She puts on the red dress and becomes Carrie – master thief, untouchable, doing good by doing bad.

            The Double Life of Cora Parry is a genuine discovery, a fast compulsive read and paints a very harsh picture of what life was really like for children who had no home to go to in Victorian times.  It isn’t cute, but it is clever and vividly brings the slums of England to life with rich characters and lively dialogue.  You too will be willing Cora on to survive and looking forward to more adventures with Cora Parry.

© Sam Hawksmoor October 2011
author of ‘The Repossession of Genie Magee’ Hodder Childrens 2011

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