Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: The Girl Who Came Home

Like most elementary-aged girls in the 90s, I became fascinated with the Titanic when James Cameron's film was released. I remember going to see the movie with my dad (and feeling really uncomfortable sitting next to him during the sex scene) and finding the story so beautiful--while also hating Rose because she let Jack die. More importantly, though, after watching the movie, I wanted to learn everything I could about the Titanic. I read books, watched documentaries, re-watched Titanic a million times, and even played a board game where, if I remember correctly, the premise was to see if you would live or die. Needless to say, when I saw The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor at Books-a-Million last weekend, I had to buy it.

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Like many novels that have been published recently, The Girl Who Came Home is told in alternating viewpoints, switching back and forth between Maggie Murphy, a seventeen year old girl who is traveling on the Titanic with her aunt and twelve others from her village in Ireland in 1912, and Grace Butler, Maggie's great-granddaughter and a budding journalist in Chicago in 1982. Grace, having just lost her father in a tragic car accident and with it, her love of journalism, appears to be in a life slump, that is until Maggie opens up to her about her experience on the Titanic. 

Maggie relives her life changing tragedy for her great-granddaughter, telling her of the young steward who saved her life, the girls she traveled with from her Irish village, and her experiences with the social class differences aboard the ship. All the while, Maggie tells Grace of how often her mind turned to Seamus, the young man from back home whom she was desperately in love with, and how deeply she cared for him. By reliving the past, Maggie is able to learn to let go, while, in turn, Grace learns how to hold on to the things she cares about.

While much of The Girl Who Came Home contained stories (a man who snuck onto one of the lifeboats disguised as a woman) and imagery (the little boy spinning a top on one of the decks of the ship) that I was already aware of, and, coincidentally enough, James Cameron showed in his film, Gaynor provided me with a story I was unfamiliar with. The characters and village in the novel, while fictional, are all based on real people and a real village near Killala in County Mayo in Ireland. "The Addergoole Fourteen" were a group of men and woman from there who sailed on the Titanic. Only three survived. Even though the characters in the novel are fictitious, their stories are riveting nonetheless.

The details that Gaynor provides are what gives the story depth, though. She richly details the aesthetics of the ship and how those on board behaved during the voyage. Also, sprinkled throughout the novel are telegrams sent and received by those on board the Titanic, as well as letters between the characters to further the plot. The book tended to be a little slow moving at times, but even so, the ending was unexpected; I did not think there were going to be any surprises, but I was very happy for the last reveal. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and there were times that I wanted to reach into the pages and rescue the people from the freezing waters of the Atlantic. I could physically feel Maggie's longing for Seamus, as well as her devastation of that horrible night. I give The Girl Who Came Home an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it for anyone who is interested in this moment in history, with an appreciation for romance.

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