Monday, August 11, 2014

"Annie's Stories" by Cindy Thomson - full of turn-of-the-century immigrant history

Cindy Thomson returns to the Hawkins House boarding house in the second book of her Ellis Island series.  An orphaned Irish immigrant with a respectable job as a housekeeper in the boarding house, Annie Gallagher is saving her money for her own place, a library where she can honor her father's storytelling.  Memories of the torturous reformation facility in Ireland, where she was essentially imprisoned, continue to haunt her.  Stephen Adams, a young postal worker, is on the lookout for manuscripts of children's literature, and he thinks the stories Annie's father left her might be the thing to appease his publisher landlord. In the meantime, one of the boarders at Annie's house ends up in a troublesome mystery that threatens them all. 

Historic details behind the book are both fascinating and horrifying.  The Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in which Annie was imprisoned was originally a ministry to provide alternate work for prostitutes, but by the late 1800's was little more than a prison for any woman accused of indiscretion, where they were forced into unpaid labor with little hope of escape.  Atrocities like this are generally glossed over or ignored in schools, but they are important pieces of history from which we need to learn.  I was also interested to learn the reputation the post office had for scaring off criminals, and that they were more feared than police or Pinkerton agents. 

Stephen is a great guy, willing to give away his only pair of mittens when he doesn't have the money for a new pair.  It is no wonder his generous heart and gentle demeanor attract Annie.  However, he is a fool when it comes to money, and his good intentions aren't worth a cent.  I realize this is how people end up deep in debt - they forget to pay their bills, spend money on luxuries rather than necessities, trust the wrong people, fall for scams, and so on.  It is frustrating to see, though, and I cringed every time he puts his trust in questionable people.  Besides learning to use money wisely, he has other faults and struggles, making him a very human but endearing character.  While he generally has good intentions for everything he does, he has a habit of landing in trouble.  And as it reiterates in the Bible, obedience is more important to God than sacrifice and good intentions. 

Since her father's death, Annie's life has been extremely difficult and painful, and she has utterly given up on the idea that God sees and wants her, taking to heart the lies that say she is a sinner of the worst kind.  We live in a fallen world, and bad things happen; it can be hard to see God's hand in the midst of trials, but as Annie learns, He is there, whether we recognize it or not. 

Thomson's story is filled with energy, reflecting the hope of immigrants for a new life, despite their poverty and oppression.  There is a strong feeling of progress: women control their own business, German immigrants live with Irish, Americans frequent the kitchens of Italians and Jews - the melting pot is in action!  Her story has many points to ponder, and it is a great glimpse of turn-of-the-century America.

Thank you Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free e-copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.

Ellis Island
1. Grace's Pictures
2. Annie's Stories

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