So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1847 by Barry Denenberg
Dear American Diary Series
Hardcover, 170 pages
October 1, 1997
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Personal collection
In the diary account of her journey from Ireland in 1847 and of her work in a mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, fourteen-year-old Mary reveals a great longing for her family.
I picked up So Far From Home right after I came back from a trip to the Lowell Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts; I love being able to match a book with an experience! I had the opportunity to walk through some of the mills (experience a smidge of the noise created there) as well as the boarding houses where many of the girls would have lived. I wanted to see how Lowell stacked up in a novel treatment, especially one for young adults.
The novel takes on 2 topics that are nicely tied together: the first being the plight of the Irish facing famine at home that led to many choosing to flee to America, the second being how these immigrants were treated upon arrival in the United States. Mary and her family are caught up in the famine at home. Some of the family makes the tough decision to emigrate while some choose to remain at home and live through it. It was hard to think that people would choose to remain behind and continue to live in those conditions, but that was the life they knew and who knew what they would find in the new country. These concerns and arguments for and against were thoroughly explored. The ship voyage was treacherous and while I had thought about and read about the immigrant arrival experience before, So Far From Home did a great job of showing how scary that would have been; how do you find your family and figure out how to get where you are going, especially if you don’t speak the language. Mary’s experiences at the mills showed how the Irish immigrants were taken advantage of and asked to perform the more difficult and dangerous tasks. In total, I think the experience here was perfectly depicted.
One thing I didn’t like was how the book ended. It ends abruptly with Mary headed out for a new experience, which sounds like it could be rather dramatic and I thought it would have been interesting to explore that experience more. It just felt a little bit unresolved to me.
I always enjoy the bonus content included in these books as it expands on the reading experience without me needing to go do my own research. Included in this novel are images of the mills (inside and out), boarding houses, some sheet music for a lullaby that is mentioned in the novel and, what I found most interesting, the time schedules and pay scales for the mills.
Overall, this is a great novel to include for any kids learning about the industrial revolution or to expand upon a visit to the National Park. It’s sad that it’s not one of the few of the Diaries that is currently in print at this time.
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Other Book in the Dear America Series:
The Winter of Red Snow
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
My Secret War
Find Dear America series here.