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'Maggie's Door'     Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 3, 2004]  "Maggie's Door," by Patricia Reilly Giff, Wendy Lamb Books, 158 pages, ages 10 to 14

Review by Louella Moreland

Few novels written for young readers can bring out the heartbreak and hunger of the Irish potato famine as poignantly as Giff's 2003 release. Meant as a companion to her prior book, "Nory Ryan's Song," "Maggie's Door" is still a very stand-alone story.

Rich with Gaelic language patterns, this novel certainly highlights the whimsical thinking and traditions most Irish descendants may remember from their own families. Even with the black and gray book cover, the subtle symbolism of a red hair ribbon completes the circle so essential to Celtic life. The red hair ribbon follows Nory through the difficult journey to the New World as it is passed from one main character to the other throughout the story.

We meet up with Nory Ryan as she leaves her home in Maidin Bay after the failure of the potato crops in 1845. The rest of her family has gone ahead to the ships that will carry them to America. Nory's 4-year-old brother, Patch, left a few days before with neighbors, the Mallon family. Nory is in hope of catching up with them along the road to Galway. Their destination is Maggie's door, 416 Smith St., New York. Maggie is Nory's sister, and she has already emigrated to America with her husband, who is Sean Mallon's brother.

Nory carries only ship papers, a single coin, a few bags of herbs, a hard biscuit and two pieces of brack (hard, flat bread). We as readers become fellow travelers, experiencing ourselves that almost impossible journey: one hill, one bend in the road and one footstep at a time. We feel Nory's weariness, her pain. We experience her hunger and loneliness, with only her memories for comfort. Most of all, we empathize with her feeling that the task is just too great for a young girl to handle.


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Maggie's Door"Mam" Mallon, Sean Red and Nory's brother, Patch, are also traveling the coast road to Galway. Their troubles begin quite soon. The three meet an Englishman who sends Sean to his groom at the manor house to request another horse. Refusal to do an Englishman's bidding is not an option. Since Sean is reluctant to leave his elderly mother, young Patch and the cart, the English gentleman bribes him with the promise that his cook will give the starving travelers food. When Sean is finally able to return, his mother, Patch and the cart are gone. Once again we as readers are guided to understand that a poor Irish youth is subject to the English gentleman's every whim, regardless of the hardship it means to himself and his family.

Giff's story continues with Nory and Sean telling us bits and pieces along the road. While heartbreaking and sometimes cruel, Nory and Sean's struggles were those faced by many Irish immigrants of early 19th century. Just as Nory and Sean on their long journey are reunited with some loved ones, while losing others, so reads the story of many families forced to leave their homes and countries for a new beginning. The image kept in their hearts and minds was always the same: All would be well when they stood at Maggie's door… in America.

To read this book and others by Patricia Reilly Giff, visit us at the Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St.

[Louella Moreland, youth services librarian,
Lincoln Public Library District]

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