Saturday, July 20, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: A Voyage from Ireland in 1849 by Clare Pastore

Weary of witches and warlocks and muggles, oh my? Me, too. Don't get me wrong; I'm pleased that the Potter Phenomenon encourages more children to trade their video games for books, thereby earning lifelong benefits. But parents looking for spiritually uplifting—and educational—stories for young readers will find a refreshing alternative in Clare Pastore's description of Fiona McGilray's journey from Ireland to America.
For me, the year 1849 conjures visions of excited folks flocking to California to try their luck with pick and pan. Half a world away, in Ireland, hordes of despondent people mine only their blighted potato crop. Typhus and other famine-fed diseases reach epidemic proportions. And yet food sent from America rots in locked warehouses as greedy English landowners strive to keep market prices high.

Book: Clare Pastore, A Voyage from Ireland in 1849Fiona McGilray, middle child of five, struggles valiantly to help her family scrape a meager existence from the recalcitrant soil of the Emerald Isle. After her oldest sister dies of typhus, her parents suggest that she and her older brother, Patrick, cross the sea to live with rich cousins in America and carve out better lives for themselves. Initially, Fiona rejects the idea because she places more importance upon being with her family than life itself.

Faith and love glue the McGilray family together, but temptation rips it asunder. One night, Fiona discovers she can wriggle through an open warehouse window. She emerges with a sack heavy with grain and a conscience heavy with guilt, until her parents justify the act as merely helping to distribute what had been meant for the community all along. Her father, Patrick and their neighbors join her in nightly expeditions. The village prospers—until the raiders get caught.

With their father languishing in jail, Fiona and Patrick must flee for America, pawning several family heirlooms to book passage. During the voyage, Fiona's understandably naive internal monologue brings to mind the refrain from a number in the animated Don Bluth musical, An American Tail: "There are no cats in America." As Fievel Mouskiewitz learned to his horror that America teems with cats, so Fiona McGilray discovers that the Land of Opportunity in 1849 teems with people harboring spiteful prejudice toward the Irish. With the inexplicable disappearance of their rich cousins, Fiona and Patrick require every morsel of wits, courage, faith and luck simply to survive. The dream of reuniting their family looms large in their hopes and prayers.

In our era, the media lauds smart-mouthed, rebellious teens, and parents often come across as idiotic boors. While the considerate-to-a-fault Patrick seems a bit too good to be true, the flawed yet determined Fiona presents a realistic portrait of a young lady willing to risk all to help her family. Brava, Clare Pastore, for giving young readers an informative and sensitive glimpse of the plight of 19th century immigrants through the Irish eyes of Fiona McGilray.

(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)

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