Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff

I have a problem. I keep starting series. I was never much of a series reader, rarely the sort to be on the lookout for that second, third, fourth book. It just seemed a little too much work, not to mention too much of a committment for me! Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) this year seems to be the year of the series for me. I've read more than a few series starters this summer, mostly unintentionally. It's often not until I finish a book that I realize it's got a sequel and sequel to the sequel and a sequel to the sequel's sequel. It's a frustrating place to be in because I want to know what happens, but I also want to get my book acquiring under control, but what to do in the face of all the series books?? With Nory Ryan's Song, I've managed to do it again!

Nory Ryan's Song is the first in a trilogy about an Irish family leaving Ireland for Brooklyn, New York amid the catastrophe of the potato famine. Nory Ryan and her family live in an Irish glen by the sea. There they are oppressed by an English landlord who is always seaching for the simplest excuse to evict his tenants to make way for grazing sheep, a far more profitable venture than collecting rent from struggling Irish families who are barely scraping by on the income from their potato fields.

When, in 1845, the potato crop succombs to a blight that rots the potatoes before they can be harvested, it doesn't take long for the landlord to come collecting the rent and finding money wanting, to begin evicting families who have nowhere to go. As food becomes scarcer and their neighbors begin to starve, Nory and her friend Sean Red Mallon know that there is one hope for them: to follow their older siblings to Brooklyn in America and a better life.

Nory Ryan's Song is great historical fiction for younger readers that will introduce them to a crushing time in Irish history and opens a window into the Irish immigrant experience. Even as an adult, I really appreciated this tale of strength in suffering at a time when the only way to save yourself was to plunge into the unknown with only hope to sustain you. The quickness with which Nory and her family as well as her neighbors go from ekeing out a living to starving to death was a revelation even to me. The cruelty of English landlords and their reasons for it was unbelievably despicable.

Nory is a great narrator and perfect glimpse into this time when, even as a child, you had to be strong and self-sacrificing to survive. Her love for her home and her neighbors are evident, but so are her hopes and dreams for an almost mythical better future in an America where, people say, the streets are paved with diamonds. Nory's life and the difficult choices she must make are a heartrending and convincing, as well as accurate, picture of the immigrant experience.

Nory Ryan's Song is a sad but also so hopeful story. I'm totally in love with Nory, and I know, despite my determination to stop buying books with such reckless abandon, that its sequel, Maggie's Door, is in my future. I can't wait to see what the journey to America has in store for the captivating Irish characters Giff has created to fill in the gaps in the story of her own family's origins.


  1. I read this one for my children's literature course and really enjoyed it. I'm glad to see someone else enjoy it too!

  2. This sounds like a series I'd really enjoy! I've read one of Giff's books and liked her writing.

  3. I had never heard of these but I'm adding them to my list. thanks.