Life is hard for poor Irish potato farmers, but 12-year-old Nory Ryan and her family have always scraped by... until one morning, Nory wakes to the foul, rotting smell of diseased potatoes dying in the fields. And just like that, all their hopes for the harvest--for this year and next--are dashed. Hunger sets in quickly. The beaches are stripped of edible seaweed, the shore is emptied of fish, desperate souls even chew on grass for the nourishment. As her community falls apart, Nory scrambles to find food for her family. Meanwhile, the specter of America lurks, where, the word is, no one is ever hungry, and horses carry milk in huge cans down cobblestone streets.
As Patricia Reilly Giff writes in her note to the reader, the Great Hunger of 1845 to 1852 was a tragic time for the Irish. Enough food to feed double the population was sent out across the sea, while an indifferent government ignored the starving masses. More than one million of the eight million people in Ireland died. Nory Ryan's Song, a fictionalized account based on this terrible era in history, describes the heroic struggles of one girl who refuses to give in to hunger, exhaustion, and hopeless circumstances. Young readers may have heard of the Irish Potato Famine, but they won't truly understand it until they meet Nory. Giff is the author of many beloved books for children, including the Newbery Honor Book Lily's Crossing and the Polk Street School series. (Ages 9 to 12) --Emilie Coulter
From Publishers 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.)
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