3 out of 4 stars
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Beginning in 1845, nearly 2,000,000 immigrants from Ireland came to the United States by way of Ellis Island. Hungry, poor, and sick, they glimpsed Lady Liberty from their ship as they passed her reassuring figure rising from the water in the New York City harbor. Each of these immigrants had a hope for a better life and the promise of a future for their children and their children’s children. They were ready to take on the new challenges that living in America would bring.
For seven years, The Great Hunger swept over Ireland and decimated the people’s crops of potatoes for which they were completely dependent upon. These Irish immigrants also sought to escape Britain’s political, religious, and economic stranglehold that kept them in poverty and refused them the right to own their own land, get jobs, and practice their faith, leaving no hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Kitchen Dancing by Veronica Hughes tells such a story about a post-Famine family in the 1890s from Ballynamona, County Meath. Mary Kate, Rose, and Elizabeth are sisters that play the central characters of the story. The decision has been made by their Father and Grandfather that the sisters will move to America to be with their Uncle Nate in Newark, New Jersey. But Mary Kate has other plans that involve going to school and marrying her sweetheart. She has no wish to go to America and expresses her sorrow while confiding in the family cow named Bessie.
The story goes back and forth between Mary Kate’s life as she remains in Ireland and looks forward to moving to Dublin to attend nursing school and the other two sisters, Rose and Elizabeth, as they struggle to navigate through the challenges of their new life in Newark, New Jersey. They go to live with their Uncle Nate who rents a boarding house owned by Liam McCann.
But Uncle Nate isn't all that he seems to be and jobs are scarce for the new and unwanted Irish immigrants. Will Mary Kate gain permission from her father to marry Edmund when she finishes school? Will Rose find love with the handsome steward that she dances with each night with on the ship to America?
Veronica Hughes relays a charming account of what family life was like in the 1890s, somewhat reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women. She provides well-placed details that draw the reader into a world that contains hardship and poverty but that also contains love. My favorite part of the book was a character named Dr. Tevac. This character added an air of magical quality to the plot and he seemed to live in between the worlds of the humans and the faeries. He is known as the County witch doctor and it is said that he holds special powers and can cure various ailments. His presence is sprinkled throughout the book but he provides a very strong role that may bring life or death to the other characters in the book.
Technical errors scattered throughout the book were distracting and sometimes slowed down the rhythm of the book. The storyline fizzled out toward the end and I felt that some of the secondary characters needed further development. I would have liked to have been taken further into the story with the climax of the plot. What should have been one of the highest points in the book was a bit of a letdown.
That being said, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I would have liked to give this book 3.5 stars if it were possible because there was a lot of poignant moments about the simple family life in turn-of-the-century Ireland that felt deserving of a 4-star rating. However, there were some technical errors scattered throughout and the storyline seemed to fizzle out at the end, leaving me wanting more. I would recommend this book to others who enjoy historical fiction and stories that contain a little bit of magic.
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