cover image Nory Ryan's Song

Nory Ryan's Song

Patricia Reilly Giff. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32141-9

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.)