In Gallagher’s debut YA novel, a teenage boy in Queens, New York, meets a young woman from a mysterious culture who changes his outlook on life.
James Ward leads a fairly everyday American life with a quiet family, a few friends, a few bullies, and the usual high school workload. But one day, he meets a strange teenage Irish girl named Cornelia Parsons, who lives nearby with her old-fashioned aunt, Vivien Widdershins. Almost without him realizing it, his new acquaintances slowly initiate him into a hidden world involving tribes of Celtic travelers, itinerant people with a long, secret history and laws, language, and lifestyles that are uniquely their own. Over the course of his high school year, James learns more about the travelers and becomes fascinated by their culture’s blend of rough criminality, clannish insularity, and poetic beauty. He’s soon drawn into Vivien’s struggle to establish her title as queen of the traveler people, and he becomes willing to confront great dangers. Along the way, James learns life lessons and more about his own background as he heeds the call of a new, romantic worldview. The story is highly engaging, with a varied array of nostalgic touches from different countries and periods. As a result, though, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge exactly when the story takes place, although it appears to be set in modern times. This nostalgic tone is clearly the author’s intention, and she even has characters allude to it in dialogue: “ ‘Reminiscences,” said Cornelia, rolling her R. ‘Nostalgia. What we do best.’ ” The various players are quietly but richly delineated, and their conversations ring true; James and Cornelia’s relationship is particularly strong. Indeed, the plot often takes a back seat to character development and exploration of the travelers’ secret world. This is a welcome choice, however, as Gallagher often handles it deftly. That said, readers may find themselves slowed down at times by the liberal sprinkling of pidgin English, Gaelic, Latin, and French words, used for color and literary effect.
A lovely, smart, and haunting adventure tale.