cover image The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan

The Dreams of Mairhe Mehan

Jennifer Armstrong. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $18 (119pp) ISBN 978-0-679-88152-0

Exploring an aspect of the immigrant experience, Armstrong's (Black-Eyed Susan) finely wrought historical novel also captures a powerful measure of the magnitude and depth of the pain caused by the Civil War. Mairhe Mehan and her father live among fellow Irish immigrants in a Washington, D.C., slum. She works in an alehouse and crochets lace for 10 cents a yard, and she narrates her heartbreaking but finally hopeful story with simple grace and power. Her dreams at night, reflecting her fears and aspirations, mingle with the realities of her life--her father's mental breakdown, her brother's enlistment in the Union Army--conveying not just the facts but the ""fuller"" truth. As Mairhe says: ""So history is to be found in the heart and memory and imagination, not in the photographer's glass plate or the journalist's wired message to the editor. So these dreams are true, I tell you, as true as anything else."" Her chance meetings with an unknown poet of the time, Walt Whitman, though on the surface improbable, are convincingly portrayed--almost as a connection between two kindred souls. This novel is remarkable for its artistry and the lingering musicality of its language. Ages 11-14. (Sept.)