The Gingerbread Girl is a pastiche of 'Oliver Twist' by Charles Dickens, which was published in monthly instalments in 1837. The twist is that the heroine, thirteen year old Amy Watkins, better known to her friends as Ginge, is no victim like Oliver, but a very feisty young lady. The novel should appeal to girl readers between the ages of 9-12 years and is a Christmas book.
The date is November and December 1875 and Amy is an orphan living in Bethnal Green in the East End of London. Her seven year old brother Billy, for whom she has sole responsibility, is very sick and in the workhouse school hospital in Leytonstone. Amy bakes gingerbread girls and sells them at Bethnal Green market as a means to survive.
She pays rent for a small room in a lodging house, where she has access to the cooking range in the basement kitchen. Elsa, her landlady, threatens Amy with eviction if she does not run her errands. As few houses had ranges, Amy does what Elsa wants and is drawn, unawares, into a criminal underworld of burglary and art forgery.
John Constable's work is said to be easy to forge, so once it is plain that Amy has artistic talent, she inadvertently copies parts of his paintings. She befriends Sweep, a road sweeper, one of a community of characters who live cheek by jowl in the lodging house, and with his help, and support from the other lodgers, she tries to look after Billy and find an escape from the criminals.