"Giff meticulously re-creates the Great Hunger as she traces a 19th-century Irish girl's struggle to survive," wrote PW. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a novel inspired by her own heritage, Giff (Lily's Crossing) meticulously recreates An Gorta M r, the Great Hunger, as she traces a 19th-century Irish girl's struggle to survive in her small village of Maidin Bay. As the story opens, 12-year-old Nory Ryan describes her neighbors being put out of their homes and her own family's oppression under English imperialists. Nory's widower father is in Galway earning money for rent while Nory, her two older sisters, Maggie and Celia, and her younger brother, Patch, stay with their grandfather. The celebration of Maggie's wedding and passage to America becomes overshadowed by the grim realities around them. Giff slowly builds the suspense as the potato blight begins to travel down the west coast from Sligo, and describes the rotting smell as the disaster strikes closer to Nory's home. Day-to-day worries about survival supplant the heroine's dreams of some day joining Maggie in New York. Allowing few glimmers of hope and numerous setbacks for Nory and her loved ones, this gritty slice of realism grows increasingly ominous as it progresses. At the same time, the hardships throw Nory together with her aging neighbor, Anna, a healer who initially frightens her, and their growing friendship is one of the novel's greatest strengths. Other characters, such as Celia, Maggie and Granda, are not as fully fleshed out. Still, vivid descriptions of the stench of failed crops and the foul-tasting food that keeps them alive will linger in readers' minds even after Nory's salvation is secured. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
As the stench of potatoes rotting in the field assailed their noses, Nory and Granda knew there would not be enough food to last the winter. For generations the Ryan family had lived on the west coast of Ireland eking out a living from the rocky soil. Sister Maggie had gone to America and Da was off fishing hoping to make enough for a passage for all to America. To twelve-year-old Nory fell the burden of keeping the family together. One by one farms fell to the English, neighbors died from hunger, and those that could, abandoned their homes and headed for Galway. Nory vowed to wait for Da and never let the fire go out in the hearth. But when baby brother Patchie and she were forced to eat grass and limpets, Nory knew there had to be another way to get food. Help came from old Anna who told her how to steal eggs from the nest of birds on the dangerous rocky cliffs. Every day was a struggle as Nory chanted her mantra--their sister's address in Brooklyn--and longed for the day her family would again be whole. Based on her own family's history and extensive research of the Great Hunger, Patricia Reilly Giff has written a tender and uplifting story of a remarkable girl who saw hope in spite of tragedy. The writing is as proud, strong, and dignified as the people who suffered through this difficult time. It is the author's gift and tribute to the courageous spirit of the Irish. Nory Ryan is an unforgettable heroine and her story is one to treasure. 2000, Delacorte, Ages 10 to 14, $15.95. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
Growing up on Ireland's west coast in the middle of the nineteenth century has not been easy for twelve-year-old Nory Ryan, but her life swiftly becomes a struggle for survival when the potato blight reaches her little corner of the world. The author has pieced together remnants of her own family heritage in this fictionalized account that introduces readers to the Great Hunger that devastated Ireland from 1845 to 1852. The Ryans are tenant farmers who will lose their livelihood if evicted from their land. To earn the rental fee, Nory's father works as a fisherman, leaving the children in care of their grandfather. While Nory's father is away, the blight draws ever closer, forcing the motherless children to use all their resourcefulness to stay together despite the threat of eviction. Nory draws inspiration from the mythical Queen Maeve of Irish legend as well as support from a local healer, elderly Anna Donnelly, as she dreams of uniting her family in America. Giff's first-person narrative is filled with imagery. Vivid detail brings to life the fields filled with rotting crops, the merciless landlords, and the rocky landscape that offers no respite to the starving families. Readers will be drawn to Nory's spirit and admire the courage she shows while helping her family and friends. By breathing life into the events that led her great-grandparents to emigrate from Ireland, the author transports readers to a time and place few will be able to forget. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Delacorte, 148p. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: MauraBresnahan VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
Twelve-year-old Nory Ryan was born into a large family living on Ireland's west coast. Once, they lived happily in their little house with the thatched roof. But things have changed. Mam died when brother Patrick, called Patch, was born. Da went out to sea to earn money to pay the English landlord's rent. Sister Maggie married and traveled to a mystical place called Brooklyn. Nory, sister Celia, Patch and their Granda are left to fend for themselves. Nory and the remaining members of the Ryan clan have always known poverty and hunger. But now Lord Cunningham has decided grazing sheep need the land more than Irish farmers. When his tenants fail to pay rent, he confiscates their chickens, pigs, and cows. Then he tumbles down their houses. With no land, they are homeless and hungry. Lucky ones emigrate to the United States. But there is no money for the Ryan family's passage. Then the sidhe slithers across the hills. The evil creature blights the potatoes. Strong green shoots are replaced by withered stems and beneath them, brown ooze. It sweeps across the country, field by field, killing everything in its path. In what is later called the Potato Famine or the Great Hunger, meager supplies of food run out. With no potatoes to eat, survivors turn to the rivers, which are soon emptied of fish. Every scrap of seaweed and sea life is cleaned from ocean beaches. Some resort to eating grass. Starvation and death seem inevitable. In order to survive Nory must conquer fear and her own character flaws. She takes responsibility for her family. In doing so, she makes the first steps in the transition from child to adult. Young Nory defies hopelessness and doubt and has the courage to look to thefuture. In the process, she learns about the importance of self-sacrifice and love. Patricia Reilly Giff is the well known author of over fifty books. Her clear prose and realistic characters are popular with middle school readers. Last year Lily's Crossing, a tale about a young girl coming to grips with the tragedy of war, won her a Newbery Award. Nory Ryan's Song may win her another. Thanks to thorough research with her own family members and interviews with descendants of Irish famine survivors, Giff has creating an authentic story with a riveting plot line. Her tale demonstrates the true depths of desperation and the perseverance required for survival. The book leaves the reader asking for more. Let's hope there is a sequel to Nory Ryan's Song. 2000, Delacorte Press, $15.95. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Michele Wehrwein Albion The Five Owls, September/October 2000 (Vol. 15 No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Set at the beginning of the Irish Potato Famine in 1845, this survival story is told by lively, 12-year-old Nory Ryan. She shares a small dwelling with her family, hens, and a pig in a subsistence-farming village on the country's west-central coast. They are anxiously awaiting the return of their Da, who has gone to sea to earn money. Their English landlord is evicting tenants who cannot pay rent, forcing them into the streets, and destroying their thatch-roofed huts. Hunger is common before blight destroys the potato crop; with no potatoes, the people face starvation. The Ryans are eager to join the lucky ones who have obtained passage to America. Nory's observations of the land, cliffs, sea, and people in her community are woven with poignant memories and realistic conversations that vividly re-create this tragic period in Ireland's history. The child grows in strength and courage as she seeks food for her family and friends. The fast pace might occasionally force readers to pause and assimilate the details she shares, and to seek out more information. The book opens with a list of Irish words with definitions and pronunciation guide. Today's readers will appreciate this compelling story with a wonderful female protagonist who is spirited and resourceful, and has a song in her heart.-Laura Scott, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Newbery Medal-winner Giff (Lily's Crossing, 1997, etc.) weaves wisps of history into this wrenching tale of an Irish family sundered by the Great Potato Famine. The three Ryan sisters, their mother dead and their "da" away at sea, are struggling to make ends meet and care for old Granda and three-year-old Patrick, as their predatory English landlord waits for his rent on one side and America's golden promise glitters over the horizon on the other. Heralded by an ominous odor, blight sweeps through the potato fields, wiping out the crops overnight. Through young Nory's eyes, the aptly named Great Hunger is devastatingly real: not only do livestock and grain disappear, but so do shellfish and kelp, and finally even nettles and other weeds. Families are mercilessly driven from their homes, the dead are buried without ceremony, and little Patrick becomes ever thinner and more pitiable. Grasping at a sudden chance, big sister Maggie takes off for America, then Granda and teenage Celia set out for Galway, hoping to meet Da on the docksleaving Nory to care for Patrick, and for old Anna Donnelly, a neighbor with a tragic past, as well. Nory makes the hardest sacrifice of all when an emigrating family invites her along and she sends Patrick in her place. So grim is the picture Giff draws that readers are likely to be startled by the sudden turnaround at the end, when news of Da's reappearance brings ship's passage for all and the prospect of a happy reunion in New York. Still, Nory's patient, stubborn endurance lights up this tale, and the promise of better times to come is well deserved. Riveting. (Fiction. 11-13). . . Haahr, Berit THE MINSTREL'S TALE Delacorte (249 pp.) Aug.2000
From the Publisher
Reviewed in Bookselling Kids' Pick of the Lists Part Two for October 2000.
Read an Excerpt
Someone was calling.
"Nor-ry. Nor-ry Ryan."
I was halfway along the cliff road. With the mist coming up from the sea, everything on the path below had disappeared.
I stopped. "Sean Red Mallon?" I called back, hearing his footsteps now.
"I have something for us," he said as he reached me. He pulled a crumpled bit of seaweed out of his pocket to dangle in front of my nose.
"Dulse." I took a breath. The smell of the sea was in it salty and sweet. I was so hungry I could almost feel the taste of it on my tongue.
"Shall we eat it here?" he asked, grinning, his red hair a mop on his forehead.
"It'll be over and gone in no time," I said, and pointed up. "We'll go to Patrick's Well."
We reached the top of the cliffs with the rain on our heads. "I am Queen Maeve," I sang, twirling away from the edge. "Queen of old Ireland."
I loved the sound of my voice in the fog, but then I loved anything that had to do with music: the Ballilee church bells tolling, the rain pattering on the stones, even the carra-crack of the gannets calling as they flew overhead.
I scrambled up to Mary's Rock. As the wind tore the mist into shreds, I could see the sea, gray as a selkie's coat, stretching itself from Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, America.
Sean came up in back of me. "We will be there one day in Brooklyn."
I nodded, but I couldn't imagine it. Free in Brooklyn. Sean's sister, Mary Mallon, was there right now. Someone had written a letter for her, and Father Harte had read it to us. Horses clopped down the road, she said, bringing milk in huge cans. And no one was ever hungry. Even the sound of it was wonderful. Brook-lyn.
The rain ran along the ends of my hair and into my neck. I shook my head to make the drops fly and thought of my da on a ship, the rain running down his long dark hair too. Da, who was far away, fishing to pay the rent. He had been gone for weeks, and it would be months before he came home again.
I swallowed, wishing for Da so hard I had to turn my head to hide my face from Sean. I blew a secret kiss across the waves; then we picked our way up the steep little path to Patrick's Well.
We sat ourselves down on one of the flat stones around the well and leaned over to look into the water. People with money threw in coins to sink to the bottom. Granda said that might be why it took so long for those prayers to be answered.
But not many people had coins to drop into the well. Instead there was the tree overhead. People tied their prayers to the branches: a piece of tattered skirt, the edge of a collar.
"I see my mother's apron string." Sean pointed up as he tore a bit of dulse in two and handed me half.
I nodded, sucking on a curly edge. I looked up at the tree. A strip of my middle sister Celia's shift was hanging there. Now, what did that one want? She had no shame. There it was, a piece of her underwear left to wag in the wind until it rotted away. Every creature who walked by would be gaping at it.
I stood up quickly, moving around to the other side of the well to look down at our glen. The potato fields were covered with purple blossoms now, and stone walls zigzagged up and down between them.
And then, something else.
"Sean," I said, "what's happening down there?"
Absently he tore the last bit of dulse in two. "Men," he said slowly. "Bailiffs with a battering ram. Someone is being put out of a house."
Someone. I knew who it was. A quick flash of the beggar, Cat Neely, her curly hair covering most of her face. And Cat's mother, who sat in their yard, teeth gone, cheeks sunken, with no money to pay the rent.
"Don't think about it," Sean said, his hand on my shoulder, his face sad. "There's nothing can be done."
"Coins," I said. "If only someone—" I broke off. I knew it myself. No one in the glen had an extra penny. Not Sean's family. Not mine. My older sister Maggie and Sean's brother Francey were saving every bit they could to get married. But even that would take years.
The dulse on my tongue tasted bitter now. Cunningham, the English lord, owned all our land, all our houses; he could put any of us out if he wanted. And now it would be Cat and her mother.
There was someone with a coin, I knew that.
Sean and I were afraid of her. He had said that one of the sidhe might live under her table. I shuddered, thinking of those beings from the other world. Tangles of gray hair, bony fingers pointing, crouched in the darkness. Anna had her magic, too. She could heal up a wen on the finger, or straighten a bone with her weeds, but only when she wanted to.
And she hadn't saved my mam the day my little brother, Patch, was born.
That Anna Donnelly had a coin.
And I was the only one that knew about it.
I thought of the day I had stopped near her house. The thatch on her roof was old and plants grew green over the top. And there was Anna outside, teetering on a stool, her white hair in wisps around the edge of her cap. She had peered over her shoulder, her face as wrinkled as last year's potatoes, then held something up before she shoved it deep into the thatch.
I had seen the glint of it, the shine.
And in my mind now: I could save Cat Neely and her mother. If only Anna would give me that coin.
Suddenly my mouth was dry.
I turned to Sean. "Thank you for the dulse," I said, and left him there, mouth open, as I flew down the path away from the cliff.
From the Hardcover edition.