As his village is tumbled by English soldiers, Patrick O’Connell, 12, throws a rock at Lord Kirkle’s agent, who threatens him with arrest if he doesn’As his village is tumbled by English soldiers, Patrick O’Connell, 12, throws a rock at Lord Kirkle’s agent, who threatens him with arrest if he doesn’t leave Ireland in two days. He and his sister Maura, 15, sail to Liverpool. Does he stay out of trouble there? No. He meets Laurence, 11, a runaway who doesn’t give his surname. It’s Kirkle, and he’s trying to avoid being found by various parties. The boys form a plan to stow Laurence on the ship the O’Connells are sailing to Boston on. You have to admire someone willing to break the law for someone he met yesterday.
You also have to admire an author who can create a girl who's complex, lovable, and completely believable as a person of her time. Maura’s prudent, compassionate, and brave. She’s never ashamed of her poverty or religion or country. She doesn’t hesitate before heading into burning buildings, and she slaps one of the best tricksters in Liverpool. (Although I maintain that Chapter 67 works best if you assume Toggs’s offer to take her somewhere better is sincerely meant. No professional liar would repeat a lie to the same person and expect them to believe it. He already has her money; what’s he interested in now is her.)
One of my favorite elements of this book is that all the characters have appropriate prejudices. Maura is initially reluctant to help an English boy. Laurence notes Patrick’s dirtiness and “puts on airs” with Fred, who scorns his naïveté. Half-Irish Mr. Pickler looks down on emigrants, and Patrick doesn’t want to be near a Protestant minister.
The plot, as the cover proclaims, is suspenseful. Even the second or third time through you can’t help but worry about the kids. There are some ironic or comically absurd scenes and some nice turns of phrase, like Pickler lifting his candle to consider Clemspool “in a new light.” There are allusions literary and historical – Lady Glencora, Robert Peel, the Iron Duke, “'Look at his togs, Fagin,' said Charley Bates." Also, there’s a floating church.
I recommend it for anyone with the slightest tolerance for historical YA....more