Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Ellis IslandThis is not really about Ellis Island.. It is about the American Dream though, and Ellis Island was at one time, the first stepping stone to achieving that.

The first quarter of the novel takes place in Ireland, early 1900s. A very young Ellie, age 8, falls in love with her future husband, John, age 10. They grow up together despite their different families. Ellie even starves herself for five days to make her extremely religious parents realize how much she needs John. John is sweeter than all get out. I found myself wanting to marry him myself... in the beginning anyway.

They do get married, but bad stuff happens... John gets hurt in the revolution. Ellie is given an opportunity to go to the United States and send money home. She boards a ship and arrives at Ellis Island, lost, alone, scared, confused... and awed.

"We were united in amazement at the Statue of Liberty-a beautiful white goddess, she seemed to welcome and warn us with her spiked crown and her impervious expression, and we stared in amazement at the at the upstretched arm and its gold cone."

At first, Ellie is shocked by America. "The animals seemed more relaxed here too, quite content to mix with us humans. The rabbits and pheasants at home hid away from us in case we'd catch and eat them. Here the people were feeding the wild animals, and dressing their dogs up in fancy collars and being dragged down the street by them!"

Besides, that, she is surprised by her "mistress" or "boss lady." The woman is an unscrupulous drunk who does nothing for herself. There's a severe division of the classes, of course, but Ellie soon realizes that in America, one can rise above their "station." She goes to typing school, gets a job, sends a ticket back to Joe in Ireland.. only he doesn't come.

Meanwhile, there's a wealthy American man named Charles that takes a strong interest in Ellie.. (This comes rather late in the game and I was a bit disappointed as the book blurb had me thinking there would be more of this scandalous American romance.)

Soon enough, one year becomes four and Ellie is faced with a difficult choice. "America had already give me so much: a career, friends, an elegant demeanor, a home full of beautiful things. Now my adopted country was offering me wealth and love and fulfillment-a lifetime without hardship or complaint. All I had to do was stay."

I was disappointed with the ending.. It was a realistic ending, very real life as very few of us get everything we want and desire and I think most of us have "settled" for less, but I was hoping for more for Ellie. She didn't make the choice I was hoping she would make and I closed the last page of this book feeling sad. 

However, the writing style is superb, the narrative is engaging, the descriptive details not overdone. I enjoyed the novel and found myself pondering more than once, "what would I do?"

Four stars. I won this ARC on LibraryThing.

My own visit to Ellis Island when I was eleven years of age.


  1. Oh this sounds interesting. Nice shot of you, I went there when I was about 16. Been a few years :)

  2. It is a good one. You know, you and I were fortunate to have been to the island when we did. It's been shut down since 9/11 now. I made it all the way up to the crown when I was eleven. :)

  3. Sounds like a good one - will add it to my TBR list - Thanks for the review