The second historical novel in Kenna’s series (Cinders Over the Junction, 2011) about hardworking families affected by the economic and social transformations of their times.
The author provides a window into the mentality of late 19th century, during which industries boomed and the foundations of the labor movement were formed. It’s an intriguing look into the lives of working-class families who escaped the perils of Ireland’s Great Famine by immigrating to the United States just before the Civil War. These profound historical events provide the backdrop as the American economy grows during the Second Industrial Revolution. Readers primarily get to know the cautiously optimistic Francis and Kathleen Scanlon, devoted parents of several children, including Jimmy and Mike. They also meet Father Daniel Quinn, who’s passionate about the growing labor movement, and the equally outspoken Norah Kelley, who hosts salons where people from all walks of life join in heated discussions about the Catholic Church and its relationship to labor. These scenes, in particular, are a treat, like overhearing a captivating conversation. There are also regular mentions of well-known, real-life historical figures, such as James J. Hill, who wanted to build another railroad line to the Pacific, and Eugene V. Debs, an outspoken Socialist leader. Jimmy’s experiences as a track worker serve to frame conversations among his family and his friends back home, often leading to discussions of loftier concepts. Some readers will find these conversations relevant to other industries today, as when Norah says to Francis, “What I contemplate most is whether this industrial expansion…is happening to improve the lives of the greatest number of people, or whether it’s to enrich the already overstuffed pockets, and bellies, of a few ‘fat cats.’ ”
An engaging family tale set during one of the most critical periods in American history.