In this debut novel, an orphan living in an Irish convent becomes torn between resentment and compassion when she learns the identity of the mother who seemingly abandoned her.
After 6-year-old Mary Margaret Joyce endures a callous foster family, a judge sends her to Saint Thomas’ Industrial School in 1943. Upon meeting the girl, Sister Constance changes her name to Peg, as there are “too many Marys.” Convent life isn’t always easy, with strict rules and sometimes-harsh nuns, but Peg perseveres and even makes a few friends. She gets a reprieve from the convent when the sisters send her on a one-week holiday to stay with Norah Hanley and her husband, Dan. Peg thoroughly enjoys time with the couple and is sad to leave. Fortunately, her visits become an annual event, but when Norah and Dan begin having children, Peg longs to be part of a family—perhaps theirs. Knowing that she was a child born out of wedlock, Peg soon suspects that her birth mother is Norah or her sister, Hannah. Peg is angry that her mother would give her away, but it’s also clear that an unmarried pregnant woman in Ireland bears the sole responsibility (and punishment) for what some perceive as a sin. Daniele’s story is quietly engaging; her straightforward prose details Peg’s arduous time at the convent without recounting graphic abuse. For example, when a nun punishes Peg and another girl with slaps to their faces, it’s a startling moment primarily because the sister strikes without warning. The author furthermore succeeds at generating sympathy for both Peg and her mother. The girl’s fury is understandable, but her mother, readers learn, has her own tale to tell. Captivating supporting characters help shape Peg’s often dour world, from kindhearted nuns to a girl at the convent who suffers periodic seizures. Daniele leaves the ending open, with the possibility of more stories about the appealing young protagonist.
An unassuming but riveting tale of the hardships and ultimate rewards of family.