Patricia Reilly Giff
Ages 12 and up
Wendy Lamb Books, 2003, 0-385-32658-0
Nory Ryan has a dream that one day her family will all be together again. They will be in Brooklyn in America, standing outside the door of her sister Maggie's house. Sean 'Red' Mallon also has a dream. He imagines himself together with his brother Francis once more; Francis and Francis' new young wife Maggie. Nory Ryan, his best friend and Maggie's sister, will be there with her family, and they will all be standing outside Maggie's door.
These two children have this same dream but for now they have only hunger and misery in their lives. With no hope left, the Ryan's and Mallon's have decided to leave Ireland, and in small groups have set off on foot for the nearest port to get a ship to England, and thence another ship to America. Starving, weak, and not knowing the world beyond their own small community, the straggling travelers lose one another in the chaos of a famine-stricken Ireland. Sean finds himself alone and has to make his own way to American without a ticket or money. During his adventures he makes a great discovery which gives him a new goal in life. Sean decides that he is going to learn to read, and that he is going to have a book of his own one day.
Slowly and painfully Nory and Sean converge on one another, finally, and to our intense relief, reuniting. Patricia Reilly Giff keeps the children's stories separate, alternating chapters, and maintaining a state of suspense as to whether the family members would in fact be able to find one another after all. The author's description of the horrors of the famine in such a matter-of-fact way makes her story very powerful. The people accept what is happening to them, which appalls us. Their poverty is almost beyond our understanding and their suffering unspeakable. Patricia Reilly Giff is also is a master of the use of imagery. For example, she frequently describes the potato crop as a stinking "ooze" in contrast to the pretty bluish purple flowers that one sees blossoming in a field of healthy potato plants.
The companion to "Nory Ryan's Song" this is a book that most readers will find disturbing. At the same time, it reminds one of the strength and endurance of the human spirit, and how powerful love can be. No matter how much people suffer, they can rise above it and still find the ability to keep on going and even to be able to help others.
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