So Far From Home by Barry Denenberg

So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, by Barry Denenberg, was published in 1997 by Scholastic.

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.

Rating: 2/5

So Far From Home recounts not only the Irish potato famine that ravished Ireland (that killed about one million people), but the harsh work environment and living conditions that awaited the Irish immigrants in America. Denenberg also offers a look at the “cradle” of the Industrial Revolution, the Lowell textile mills.

Denenberg only superficially sketches a picture of the desperation and determination of some immigrants—desperate to work, determined to send money home for the families—and how business owners used that to their advantage. He does capture this well, though this Dear America book is weaker than others. I wish he had also focused on the way the Irish were treated beyond work environment—there is next to no mention of Catholicism (a strange religion to Protestant New England) and though there is some mention of Mary being bullied by other girls, there is no indication that it is her ethnicity that is prompting it.

Denenberg mostly focuses on the textile mills and their dangers, though I feel he could have done much more. It seems in his determination to portray as much as possible of that time period, he missed out on depth and richness. Mary is a phlegmatic protagonist, there only as a vehicle for the viewer to experience the time period. She has no characterization, no “body,” no memorability. This is further accentuated by the epilogue, which is the most depressing and least developed epilogue of a Dear America book so far. It seems even Denenberg didn’t know what to do with Mary.

It’s hard for me to believe that So Far From Home is written by the same author who wrote One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping (one of my absolute favorite Dear America books). So Far From Home is good for a general look at the Irish potato famine, Irish immigration, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, but Denenberg misses many opportunities for lasting impressions and Mary is a forgettable character.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2KD61iE

One thought on “So Far From Home by Barry Denenberg

  1. Pingback: A Light in the Storm by Karen Hesse | Leaf's Reviews

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