by E.D.E.N. Southworth
523 pages, General Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

A clean read with good role models, but can be a little dull in the middle.


The tale of Ishmael Worth begins with the suspenseful history of his mother and father and the tragedy that entangled them before moving on to the life of the boy himself. Ishmael, born and raised in poverty, is determined to make something of himself with the help of God and his own skills, and this first book is the tale of how he rises from "Nobody" to "Somebody."


Ishmael is the picture of goodness and virtue, and stands for that even when tempted to turn away. The other players in the story are more complicated characters. Ishmael's Aunt Hannah hoped that he would die when he was little, thinking that it would be best for all parties (of which she later repents); a man writes a rather cruel letter to his wife, blaming her for an event that was not her fault (an event probably cleared up in the sequel, "Self Raised"); and the lawyers and judges in the story are willing to accept cases that go against their own code of ethics. Near the beginning, two boys (who cause more trouble later on) are caught stealing treats and then proceed to lie about it. However, bad behavior is not condoned, and those who "practice righteousness" are rewarded.

Spiritual Content

Bibles are mentioned, and Ishmael is a Christian. One man in particular often thanks God for His blessings and there is a generally Christian atmosphere to the story. The theme of being Christ-like prevails through the story as well.


Reuben Gray, an acquaintance of Hannah Worth, says he wishes he could kill a man for something the latter did, but is reprimanded by Hannah. Ishmael gets into a fight with two other boys near the beginning; a manor house catches fire and several children end up a little scorched; and when he saves a carriage from destruction, the runaway horses trample him and leave him greatly injured. Nothing is described in detail, however.

Drug and Alcohol Content

E.D.E.N. Southworth takes a very strict view about alcohol; she feels it necessary to comment at the beginning that a small bottle of brandy kept in a hut is only for medicinal purposes, and Ishmael tries to remain completely abstinent. However, he does drink brandy three times towards the end of the story; it is pressed upon him the first time when he feels faint, the second time he drinks it as a toast, and again the third time an acquaintance gives him some when Ishmael is not feeling well. The last time, the brandy is too strong and Ishmael passes out.

Sexual Content

It is generally believed that Ishmael was born out of wedlock, and that plays a critical role in the story. There are love stories in this book, but they are completely chaste.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

The word "bastard" is used three times in its proper context, but in the Lamplighter Publication edition, the word is blotted out in its entirety every time (the context makes it clear what the word is, though).


The beginning of "Ishmael" and its end were the best parts, I found, both being suspenseful and intriguing. The middle, however, seemed to lag; it was primarily about Ishmael's school studies and personal victories, and did not pull me in as the other parts did. Also, I could not help but feel that Ishmael was too perfect and that his attributes were over-described. However, the central love story was very interesting and provided a good "tangle" that I would be interested to see resolved in the sequel. Ishmael Worth is a good role model and his fictional story has touched many lives, so if the reader is looking for a good inspirational tale, this may be a good one. It is not, however, primarily a story of adventure, so don't pull it off the shelf looking for that kind of book. Southworth's more action-filled, and just as clean, story is "The Hidden Hand," which I would highly recommend.


The sequel to this story is generally known as "Self Raised," but is also sometimes titled "From the Depths."

Fun Score: 3
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: 13+

Review Rating:

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