Penelope Hileman’s novel He Knew Her Name is the story of a mother and daughter and the men who steer the course of their lives.
In 1935, 18-year-old Bea Ledoux landed in a girls’ reformatory for stealing from the bank where she worked. She used the money to pay for trysts with her married lover. Caught, she was sentenced to one year.
The story opens as Bea leaves the reformatory with the baby girl she gave birth to while at the home. Refusing her parents’ demands to give the baby up, she instead leaves the newborn, named Mary Ellen, with them. Contacts from a reformatory friend help Bea find an apartment, a job—and a taste for alcohol. Although Bea attempts to see Mary Ellen, she prefers going out with friends.
The story’s point of view soon shifts to 6-year-old Mary Ellen, a frightened and somewhat lonely girl. Mary Ellen dreads time with her mother but loves her grandmother, who she calls “meme.” But that small bit of happiness is lost when the widowed “meme” remarries and Mary Ellen is sent to live with relatives. At 14, she marries Andrew, who has no idea of her age. So begins her years-long quest to find love while raising five children in poverty.
Hileman delivers an interesting story about two women whose lives are colored by alcoholism, poverty, poor choices and loss. The storytelling is natural and nicely paced.
Unfortunately, the manuscript is riddled with technical errors: misspellings, missing punctuation, and wrong word choices (“passed” for “past,” “bye” for “by,” “Hearst” for “hearse,” “peruse” for, perhaps, “pursue,” etc.). The constant mistakes distract from the story and substantially weaken what otherwise could be a satisfying read.
In sum, more thorough copy editing is required before the story will hold appeal for its target audience: those who enjoy tales about women’s lives.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.