I had heard Ellis Island being mentioned as ‘being a book you’d like if you enjoyed [Colm Toibin’s] Brooklyn’. I really enjoyed Brooklyn, so I thought I’d read it. However, don’t trust what you hear- although this book has vague similarities to Brooklyn (namely Irish girl goes to America), that where the comparison stops. Firstly, Ellis Island is set earlier, during the War of Independence, so our main character Ellie, steps foot in New York in the 1920s. Secondly, Ellie is married with an injured husband to support.
I should backtrack to give you an overall idea of the plot – it quickly explains Ellie’s restricted upbringing in Ireland and her hasty (but loving) marriage to John, a boy she’s known since childhood. Her parents cast her out after hearing of her marriage (she was meant to be joining a convent) and Ellie and John live in a small cottege in the woods. Money is scarce and when John is wounded during the war, Ellie goes to America to work as a lady’s maid to save money for John’s operation. It will only be for one short year…or not. Ellie finds life in America to be free and cheerful in comparison to home. She makes good friends, earns good money and doesn’t want to come back to Ireland. She is eventually forced back by circumstances, but will she stay?
I found Ellie a very likeable character who desperately wants to fit in with her neighbours, but is not sure how to go about doing it. I found John to be rather frustrating at times (particularly later in the book) but his reasoning for being so stubborn is understandable. The story flows well, and I didn’t find myself skimming over any parts. I think it’s a light and interesting representation of the Irish and American people at that time.
I finished this book very quickly, as I was reading almost every moment that I had. I’m also excited to hear that there’s a sequel in the works – is Ellie happy with her decision?
If you enjoy historical novels dealing with love, family, religion and happiness, pick this book up. It’s a lot happier than Brooklyn and has a definite resolution.
Read this if: you enjoy Irish/American historical fiction.
9 out of 10.