Sunday, June 26, 2011
Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan
The only child of a devout Catholic father who nonetheless failed the priesthood and a mother so terribly wounded by a community that still judges her for her family's past sins that the family hardly mixes with their neighbors, young Ellie Flaherty's childhood is a drab and loveless affair. It's no wonder, then, that when Ellie's mother lets her out, as an act of charity, to play with John Hogan whose parents have both passed away from TB, that she quickly falls in love with his easy smile and his awe at the nature that surrounds their village in Ireland. The pair are best friends through their school days, but when John leaves for Dublin to apprentice with a carpenter, Ellie wonders if she's lost him for good, but she need not worry, for when they meet again their love is stronger than ever, and soon the pair are married.
Married life isn't easy in their rural Irish home during the Irish rebellion, and John, a soldier for the Irish Republican Army, is severely wounded. The only way John will walk again is with an expensive operation, and Ellie knows the only way to afford it will be for her to join a friend working as a lady's maid in America. Soon enough, Ellie is being seduced by the promise, independence, and society of life as a young woman in New York City during the Roaring 20s. Will Ellie be able to return to a life of poverty in Ireland with her one true love, or will the siren call of the city of dreams lure her into a new life altogether?
Ellis Island is Ellie's story, and hers alone. Though the pages of Ellis Island are full of characters, her Irish family, her husband John, her rich employer Isobel Adams, and her friends from her typing job, not to mention the charming Charles Irvington who would woo her given the chance, Ellie's character is the only one that truly jumps off the page. The rest, while fleshed out enough, merely give structure to Ellie's journey, not just from Ireland to America, but from thoughtless, selfish childhood to accepting, understanding adulthood. Kerrigan's Ireland and 1920s New York City are almost like characters themselves, and Kerrigan draws out the wonder and the fast pace of a city on the rise just as well as she pictures for us the quaint, if sometimes desperately poor, Irish countryside. The contrasts between Ellie's two lives are sharp, but Kerrigan ultimately manages to show the great value in both of them.
Ellis Island is littered with the sort of coincidences that might make the story seem contrived but for the impression that Ellie's story is so human and turns out the way so many human stories do. Ellie's story reveals a life peppered with joys and haunted by regrets and thoughts of what might have been. Ellie's coming of age mirrors so many in that we come to understand the lives around us, and we don't just "settle" but learn to love even the small joys that our lives have to offer us. Ellis Island was a little lighter fare than perhaps I was expecting but is ultimately an enjoyable historical love story that brings the 1920s to life and gives us a memorable character finding herself during a captivating time in history.
Ellis Island releases on June 28th.
Thanks to Mary at Harper Paperbacks for sending me a copy for review!
Check out other reviews at...
Lovely Treez Reads
Sam Still Reading