Nory Ryan’s Song
Today was a perfect day for me to read this book again. Home with the flu–or some other energy-sapping, fever-inducing bug, I stayed snug in my bed with this beautiful story to brighten my day and help me feel more grateful for every bite of food I eat.
Nory Ryan is a 12 year old young woman living in Ireland when the English own the land and her father (“Da”) must leave for months at a time to fish at sea for money to pay the rent. While her father is away (her mother died when she was young), her older sister, Maggie, marries and leaves to sail to America–Brooklyn, New York, where she believes the streets are paved with diamonds and no one goes hungry.
Before her father returns, the potatoes upon which the people survive turn to black mush. Nory works to help Celia (her older sister), Granda (her grandfather), and Patch (her younger brother, Patrick) not to starve to death. Nory also goes to help a woman who frightens her, Anna, because she borrowed a coin from Anna and promised to help her to redeem her debt.
I love how Nory discovers within herself unknown strength as she uses every possible resource to save her family from starving. I also love how her view of Anna changes as they come to know and love each other through their mutual service.
Nory Ryan’s Song is such a beautiful story of triumph over desperation, faith in the face of horrible adversity, and a young woman’s unselfishness, compassion, and love. I didn’t even know about the potato blight and resulting Great Famine of 1845-1849 in Ireland. More than a million people died in one year, and another million left for America in that same year. That was a fifth of the Irish population!
Note: This story refers to Irish folklore about sidhe who snatch away little boys and “supposedly cause trouble” like creating the potato blight. It could be scary for a younger child who isn’t old enough to differentiate between truth and fiction. You will want to read this first to feel out what is best for your child.
Nory Ryan’s Song is the first of a trilogy, followed by Maggie’s Door and Water Street, which help us know what happens to Nory when she travels across the ocean to America and then to her children living in New York.