(E) Ages 12-15, Book Reviews, Boys, Historical Fiction, Middle Grades, Realistic Fiction
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Last of the Name by Roseanne Parry

The New York City draft riots of 1863 form a dramatic background to this engaging tale of two young Irish immigrants.

Last of the Name by Roseanne Parry.  Carolrhoda, 2019, 322 pages.

Reading Level: Teen, 12-15

Recommended for: ages 12-16

For the Irish, 1963 is not the best time to immigrate to America.  But the O’Carolans have no other option, with Da exiled to Australia, Ma dead, and all their siblings lost to starvation or English oppression.  Only Danny, age 12, and his teenage sister Kathleen actually make it to New York City.  Their only material asset is a mysterious family heirloom passed on by their grandmother. Kate won’t reveal what it is until some dire emergency occurs.  A lucky tip sends them to the Treadwell house, where they are hired as replacement for the black servants Mrs. Treadwell was pressured to fire.  Mr. T is searching for their soldier son in Pennsylvania and the wife is throwing herself into preparations for a musical soiree featuring their daughter.  Mrs. Treadwell is too distracted to observe the new help very closely, which is why she thinks she’s hiring two girls. 

That was Kate’s idea, though it pricks her Catholic conscience—it’s easier for girls to find work and Danny, with his golden curls and sweet singing voice, will pass.  He protests: “Ain’t it a crime to go around in the wrong clothes?  Ain’t it a sin to lie?”  That sweet Irish tenor will sink him further once Mrs. T hears it and insists that “Mary” perform in crinoline and ruffles.  Meanwhile, tensions are building in the street as rumors of a draft have the Irish up in arms.

Though a survivor of unremitting tragedy, Danny is a spirited narrator with an authentic-sounding voice and good humor.  This is the rare historical novel that rings true—does not impose 21st-century values on denizens of the 19th.  Nor does is simplify the moral issues Danny is puzzled about:

If anyone should have a care for folk who are treated ill—treated ill for the things about themselves they can’t change—it would be the Irish.  But the newspapers say different things and there’s no Ma or Da or even a parish priest to ask what’s the truth of the matter. 

But, as Kate quotes to the Protestant cook, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The siblings will meet men of good will also, and find opportunity in the New World in spite of its faults.  Some profanity mars the narrative, particularly a ship captain’s expletive on page 9.  Once past that, the language is no worse than an occasional “hell.”

Cautions: Language (see above), violence

Overall rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic value: 4.5

Also by Roseanne Parry: Heart of a Shepherd

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