Mary Mehan Awake


The close of the Civil War finds Mary Mehan as emotionally traumatized as the demobilized soldiers around her, and she must begin a journey of emotional and physical renewal. This moving sequel to one of the most highly praised young adult books of 1996, The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, is now in Knopf Paperback.  

While working as a servant in the home of a naturalist, Mary Mehan gradually recovers from the numbing effects of her experience as a Civil War nurse...

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1998-07-21 Mass Market Paperback New GOOD CONDITION.

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The close of the Civil War finds Mary Mehan as emotionally traumatized as the demobilized soldiers around her, and she must begin a journey of emotional and physical renewal. This moving sequel to one of the most highly praised young adult books of 1996, The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, is now in Knopf Paperback.  

While working as a servant in the home of a naturalist, Mary Mehan gradually recovers from the numbing effects of her experience as a Civil War nurse and falls in love with a man who had lost his hearing.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The sequel to The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan follows a young Irish immigrant in the years after the Civil War, as she falls in love with a veteran, a former musician who cannot hear. Ages 14-up. (July)
Children's Literature - Alexandria LaFaye
In this stunning sequel to The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan, a young Civil War nurse tries to build a new life after the war. During the war, Mary shut down all of her sense to protect herself from the grief of watching so many soldiers die. Now that the war is over, she moves to New York to become a servant for the Dorsetts, a loving and compassionate couple who make her a part of their family. As her friendship with Henry, a fellow servant and war veteran, grows, Mary "wakes up" to regain all of her senses and fall in love. Armstrong creates an unparalleled psychological realism in this beautifully written tale. She also provides a rich array of historical details which allow the reader to step back to a turbulent time in our nation's history and understand the trials of recovering from war.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 UpThis sequel to The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan (Knopf, 1996) is a quiet story about the love Mary observes between her employer, naturalist Jasper Dorsett, and his wife Diana, and the love that blossoms between herself and Henry, a hired hand. Mary and Henry, both veterans of the Civil War, are trying to make new lives for themselves in the tranquil environment of upstate New York on Lake Ontario. Deaf as a result of the war's constant cannon explosions, Henry has accepted the loss of the musical career he once wanted. Mary, exhausted from nursing dying soldiers, has come to this quiet place at the encouragement of her friend Walt Whitman. She is also trying to put aside the pain and anguish of her brother's death and her weary and broken father's return to Ireland. The author's love of nature shines through in her sensitive descriptions of this northern pastoral setting. Set in a time when America sought both healing and westward expansion, this story is about recovery and expanding horizons. Mary and Henry find friendship and love as they heal, and ultimately decide to start a new life in the American West. A wonderful story about love, dreams, and renewal, written in beautiful prose.Marie Wright, University Library, Indianapolis, IN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679892656
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 7/21/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.95 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Ever since the first grade, Jennifer Armstrong knew that she would become an author. She loved making up stories and sharing them with others. Her family treasured books and this led her to become an avid reader of all types of fiction. It was no surprise when she chose to study English and American Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts.

Armstrong is the author of over 50 books for children from kindergarten through high school. Best known for writing historical fiction, she has also been successful in
creating picture books, easy readers, chapter books, young adult novels, as well as nonfiction.

Armstrong, who grew up outside of New York City, now lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Jennifer Armstrong is the winner of the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. Many of her books have been designated as Notable Books by the American Library Association and the International Reading Association.

For more information on Jennifer Armstrong, visit her website at, or read her blog at

From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.
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Read an Excerpt

The village of Grace Harbor rested upon the shores of Lake Ontario like a swimmer resting upon the beach, stretching itself and gazing into an oval mirror. The main street terminated at one end of the train station, and at the other end at the pier and the harbor. Passengers alighting from the New York Central Railroad cars were therefore greeted by a vista of the great lake spreading off into the horizon, and of the rising and falling boats that might ferry them there. In the depot waiting room, Mary watched the glimmer of the lake light explore the ceiling; she could not see the boats.

Jasper Dorsett, naturalist, had sailed into that vista thirty years earlier, leaving behind a commission to West Point so that he could be bird and plant man in a survey expedition to the Great Lakes and the new Wisconsin Territory to the west of them. And then, leaving the survey and equipping himself with funds from home, Dorsett followed the flights of birds across Lake Superior into Canada. For fifteen years he crossed from Manitoba and Ontario to Minnesota and Wisconsin, collecting specimens to send to the universities of the east and later the Smithsonian, venturing farther north each time, living in all ways with the birds and plants he studied. Many times he went hungry rather than eat a rare bird just collected.

This was the man who was now driving his gig along Ontario Street, which met the main street of Grace Harbor at a right angle. As he turned the corner, Mary was standing at the window of the station waiting room, watching a robin in the street. Mary saw its beak open as it sang, but no sound reached her through the glass. Then the bird burst away in the next moment asthe gig bowled up the street toward the station, and through the blur of spokes Mary saw the robin settle again and open its yellow mouth once more, puffing out its chest.

The gig stopped at the station. A man of middle age hopped down from the driving seat, wrapped the reins around the brake handle, and puffed out his chest. He tipped his head to one side, regarded the train station, and then hurried in.

"Say you're Mary Mehan. Do say so!" he rang out.

"I am Mary Mehan, sir," Mary replied.

The man cocked his head to the other side. "Giving satisfaction already! That's very good. So glad you could join us, and you say you can read, is that right? You don't look very strong! That Whitman fellow said you're strong."

"I am, sir, very strong."

"And have a good voice, too," Dorsett said. "Although you don't use it much, I'll guess. Here we go! Surprised to find your new employer fetching you from the station, eh? Our man is deaf and doesn't like to drive to meet strangers, poor fellow. Into the gig! That's it!"

And with a snap of the reins they were rolling down the street.

"You'll find our household very cozy!" he continued over the clattering of the wheels and hooves, and his voice faded and came back to Mary in jerks and starts. "Me. Mrs. Dorsett. Rose, the cook. And Henry-just as I mentioned. Deaf. The war. Artillery crew. Such a shame. So many losses..."

"Yes, sir," Mary agreed. She watched her hands, saw the shadows that fell across them from the branches of the trees arching over the road, and in this way spent the remainder of the short journey while Dorsett outlined her duties.

Mary was to assist his wife in matters pertaining to wardrobe, linens, and household management, and to read to her when asked and be company to her. When not wanted by Mrs. Dorsett, Mary was to assist him, primarily in his activities with his camera and photographic equipment, but also with the recording of descriptions of specimens, and the correspondence he carried out. For indeed, although no longer a naturalist with his shotgun and canoe, Dorsett was still a naturalist with his pocketbook and pen, and provided financial support to younger men now in the field, receiving shipments of specimens to be photographed, properly measured and described, mounted, and shipped to the Smithsonian.

"And of course, I'm not completely bound and tied to my study," he added. "I do get out--trying to photograph the creatures alive in their natural state, but it's hard! Problems of exposure time! Sudden movement! A challenge! But I'm at it! I'm at it!"

Mary tried to listen, knowing she must listen, but having no idea, really, what he was talking about. The landscape around her was the greatest extreme from what she had always known, the dirty alleys of the capital's Irish slum and the crowded hospital wards. But she could only look at it from the edges of her vision as the gig rattled along the road. Those were unleafed trees there, here was a stream slipping under a wooden bridge, and there a fallow field awaiting the plow. Jasper chirped at her side, as much a part of the landscape as the small brown birds bursting up from the bare branches of the chestnuts as the gig hurried on.

Mary couldn't always understand him. She couldn't hear him distinctly, just as she couldn't see clearly what the landscape showed her. She held herself as still and quiet and careful as she had on the train, until they pulled up a long drive to a rambling white house with spreading porches and green shutters. Beyond, Lake Ontario opened into the horizon. A cool strong breeze swept across Mary's face.

"How do you like our puddle?" Dorsett asked.

Mary was silent for a long moment, seeing only the dazzle and shimmer. "I have never seen a lake before."

The man drew the horse up in front of the house. He gaped at her. "Never seen a lake?"

"No, sir." And with an effort, Mary added, "Mr. Dorsett, I have always lived in a city."


But then his gaze suddenly darted away as some wonderful sight caught his eye, and he called, "Diana, my dear," and threw aside his reins.

Mary saw a change come over his face and in this way knew how beautiful his wife was. Dorsett hopped down from the gig, calling eagerly.

"Look what I've brought you. The new girl. Mary, this is Mrs. Dorsett."

Diana Dorsett had been walking. She wore a long white wool coat against the breeze, and the hem of her white dress was stained with mud and new grass. She held a white feather, and drew it first through one hand, and then the other, letting it twine through her bare fingers. The wind had put color into her face and pulled a lock of blond hair from beneath her hat.

"Welcome," she said to Mary, slowly twining the feather through her hands. "My husband has been so anxious for your arrival. So have I. We hope you'll be very...content with us."

"Thank you, Mrs. Dorsett."

"How was your journey? Were you comfortable?"

"Thank you, ma'am. I had no trouble."

Mrs. Dorsett turned to her husband and put a hand on his arm. "Darling, speaking of trouble, I'm afraid Nanuk has done it again. He caught a sparrow and the poor creature is suffering. I put it in the stable."

"I'll mend it, I'll mend it!" Dorsett said. "Where was his bell? How I let you talk me into keeping a cat I'll never know."

"Because you're the kindest of men, my dear."

Dorsett blushed with pleasure. "Impossible. I'm as cruel and hard as ice!"

"Of course you are," his wife laughed. "Now, shouldn't you have a look at that poor bird?"

And then they were both gone, moving across the lawn toward the side of the house. Mary climbed down from the gig and stood by the horse's head, looking up at the white house and then away. The horse put his head down to rub his fetlock. The door of the house opened.

"Oh, there they've left you-"

Mary looked up in time to glimpse an immensely fat woman framed in the doorway before the door slammed shut again. The place was utterly silent. She stood still, breathing quietly, waiting, while two swallows dove across her vision and flashed away. The door opened again.

"Come in, come in!" The fat woman beckoned to Mary, sneezed, and beckoned again. "Come in! It's freezing cold! Henry's coming for the horse, just leave it. Leave your bag."

So Mary walked into the house, and the woman stepped aside, sneezing again before shutting the door.

"I'm the cook. Rose. Let me show you your room."

Rose turned and gathered her heavy skirts to lead the way up the broad stairs, and through a window Mary saw a young man walk from the side of the house to the gig and lead the horse away.

"It's a large place, but you'll find the work none too hard," the cook said as she labored up the stairs. "Mrs. Dorsett dreams the day away. Mr. Dorsett met her up in Canada; her father was the director of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort York, and I can't even imagine what a specimen of remoteness that is. So she seems to be quite content all on her own; they don't entertain much unless it's one of those explorer men coming with their smelly packages and bones and talking till all hours with Mr. Dorsett, and they're not particular, just glad for a warm bed and good food. And no children, of course, which is a pity for them but makes for an easier house. But the dusting!"

Mary looked through the glass at the owl as Rose caught her breath. The round marble eyes glinted in the filtered light of the stairway. "I don't mind the hard work," Mary told the cook. "I'm willing to work."

"No, of course you are. I'm sure you're a good girl. Irish, are you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Never had an Irish girl here before. German girls, now they're good hard workers." And so Rose continued upward, still talking, leading Mary past racks of antlers mounted on the walls, framed maps, engravings and paintings of birds and ferns and flowers. Chips and splinters of light slid off specimen cases filled with stuffed birds as Mary walked. Light fell from the prisms of the chandelier poised high above the stairwell and rolled around the glass globes of the lamps.

Mary knew she was a stranger among these things, a specimen more odd and unusual than any freakish natural thing in the cases, without benefit of shell or claws or spiny quills or other protection. She ascended the staircase like a bubble, drifting, fragile, separate. She knew these people had no idea how separate from them she was. At the top of the stairs, a large oval window let in a bright, shifting illumination that made her blink.

Mary's steps faltered as she passed before the window. She looked out for a moment at the brilliant lake, and then turned. On the wall opposite, a large oval mirror echoed the landing and the view. The landing and all its birds and prints and horns were washed in the glimmering light of Lake Ontario. And against the light, Mary saw herself in dusky silhouette, like a swimmer in deep water looking toward the surface.

From the Hardcover edition.
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