A family struggles to survive the Irish Potato Famine in 1846.
Following the onset of the blight that caused massive crop failure the previous summer, 12-year-old Lorraine hopes that her family’s efforts on their small tenant farm in County Galway will put enough food on the table to get through winter. Their freshly planted spuds rot practically overnight, though, and Lorraine, her little brother, Paddy, and their Ma and Da join neighbors in a fight to stay alive. Napoli shows her considerable talent for drawing readers into her protagonist’s world through Lorraine’s frank, first-person account of her circumstances. The narrative, like Lorraine, is grounded in the natural world. While foraging meager greens for the family’s supper, Lorraine encounters a girl on the grounds of the English landlord’s manor. Miss Susanna is the pampered landlord’s daughter who tells Lorraine that “you Irish are irresponsible, having children you can’t take care of” and that they are to blame for their own starvation, even as she shares some of her doll’s picnic. Miss Susanna serves as stand-in for the English attitude toward the Irish. Her imperious attitude—giving orders to Lorraine and ignoring the obvious poverty of the tenant farmers—is set against Lorraine’s story, giving young readers a lens through which to understand the history of oppression. The author makes it clear in endnotes that it’s worth noting the similarities to the plight of modern-day refugees. Although the publisher aims this book at teens, Lorraine’s age suggests a middle-grade audience, and there’s nothing about the content or the sophistication of storytelling that skews the age up.
A worthy introduction to an important slice of history. (map, glossary, bibliography, timeline) (Historical fiction. 9-13)