Vera is a fast-paced historical fiction about a young girl who is 15 going on 45 in many ways. She is the secret daughter of San Francisco’s most infamous madam, Rose of The Rose and is being raised by an unloving foster mother whose daughter is her only friend, at least at the beginning. When the 1906 earthquake struck, Vera musters all her hard-win equanimity and grit to save her foster sister and herself, gathering a collection of prostitutes, a Chinese cook and his family, and an orphan (But don’t you dare call him that!) around her as she takes over her birth mother’s house.¬†She also determinedly seeks her mother certain she is not dead despite the unlikelihood of her survival.

Throughout the story, Vera interacts with real historical figures who are as colorful and dramatic as the “Painted Ladies.” those brilliant Victorian homes of contemporary San Francisco. With unlikely friendships and alliances, Vera manages to persevere and thrive. However, unlike many historical novels, romance is a small part of her story. She searches for her mother’s love, finds a brief passionate love, and in the end, discovers that loving yourself might be the greatest gift to give yourself.

I enjoyed Vera more than most historical novels. It was intriguing and rooted enough in reality that I found myself looking for Vera Johnson in Google, suddenly considering she might have been a real person. I did search for the oldest survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and learned his name was Billy Del Monte, so now I wonder if Bobby Del Monte, the don’t-call-him-orphan, was created in homage. I liked Vera’s perspective of recognizing people’s failings while still seeing their worth. The book is fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable.

I received an ARC of Vera from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.