Tuesday 18 April 2017

The American Girl by Rachael English @EnglishRachael @HachetteIre

From a storyteller who combines the warmth of Maeve Binchy with the elegance of Maggie O'Farrell comes an unforgettable new novel . . .
Boston 1968. Rose Moroney is seventeen, smart, spirited - and pregnant. She wants to marry her boyfriend. Her ambitious parents have other plans. She is sent to Ireland, their birthplace, to deliver her daughter in a Mother and Baby home - and part with her against her will.
Dublin 2013. Martha Sheeran's life has come undone. Her marriage is over, and her husband has moved on with unsettling speed. Under pressure from her teenage daughter, she starts looking for the woman who gave her up for adoption more than forty years before.
As her search leads her to the heart of long-buried family secrets, old flame Paudie Carmody - now a well-known broadcaster - re-enters the frame.
From Boston to rural Ireland; from Dublin back to Boston, The American Girl is a heart-warming and enthralling story of mothers and daughters, love and cruelty and, ultimately, the embrace of new horizons.

The American Girl by Rachael English was published in paperback by Hachette Ireland on 13 April 2017 and is the author's third novel.  I really enjoy this author's writing, and have read and reviewed her earlier books here on Random Things : Going Back (Orion, May 2014) and Each And Every One (Orion, September 2014).

Rachael English's writing gets better and better with each book that she writes. The American Girl is a beautifully constructed story that will pull at the heart-strings, but is also an astute and detailed observation of Ireland's social history that is both shocking and overwhelmingly sad. When I was sent the details about The American Girl it struck a chord with me. It covers a subject that is very personal to me and to my family as I was born in 1966 to an unmarried Irish Catholic woman, and my birth name was Brennan. This is a story that begins fifty years ago, but has far-reaching consequences. There are so many families that this subject has touched, and the emerging discoveries and on-going investigations currently going on in Ireland are revealing more and more of the harsh and sordid truth that has been hidden away for so many years.

The American Girl of the title is Rose Moroney, a seventeen-year-old living in 1960s Boston, USA. Her family are Irish-American, upwardly mobile and living the American dream, far from the rural backwater town in the West of Ireland that they originate from. Rose is clever, pretty ... and pregnant. Her parents are horrified. Rose's boyfriend, Joe Brennan is not the type of guy that they imagined for their daughter; he's from a rough family, they see no prospects for him. Despite their Catholic origins, religion doesn't play a large part in their decision to send Rose to her Aunt in Ireland to have the baby. They are more concerned about their social standing, about what their associates will say, and how Rose will never manage to snag a decent husband if she has an illegitimate child in tow.

Rose's Aunt Agnes is a nun, in charge of a mother and baby home on the outskirts of a small town in rural West Ireland. This is not a caring, compassionate place. The nuns are determined that the girls in the home will realise the error of their ways. These young women are desperate, vulnerable, isolated, alone and terrified, yet they are put to work; in the kitchens, scrubbing floors. Dressed in drab clothes and punished for the smallest of crimes. This is their punishment, and the most traumatic and cruel thing of all is that at the end of their confinement, their child will be taken away and given to another family. They must sign papers to say that they will never try to contact their child. Ever.

For Rose, this period in her life will colour the rest of her years. Here is the place that the demons inside are unleashed, and they will continue to haunt her. Despite the fact that she returns to the US and marries, and has more children, she will always keep secrets, deep in her heart.

Forty five years later, in Dublin, Martha Sheeran finally takes the plunge and decides to try to track down her birth mother. Martha's life is in turmoil; her marriage is in tatters, she feels unloved and unfulfilled and it is her teenage daughter Evonne's constant nagging about her birth family that persuades her to take the tentative first steps.

What follows is a detailed and excellently written story of the journey that both Martha and Rose take. Rachael English has clearly researched her subject so very well and her writing is so beautifully tender, there are scenes that took my breath away. The horror of Rose's treatment, and the difficulties that Martha encountered during her search are brilliantly portrayed.

This author has created such an eclectic cast of characters who are incredibly lifelike, there are times when both Rose and Martha are infuriating, both of them keep their emotions very close to their chests, yet the reader can totally understand why both of them do this. Young Evonne is startling mature, possibly more so than either of her parents, she's the glue that holds the story together.

The American Girl is subtle and delicate, it is a passionate and intense family drama that deals with hidden secrets and the effects that they have. The web of mystery is tantalisingly revealed, the characterisation is wonderful. Filled with sorrow, joy and tenderness and highly recommended by me.

My thanks to the author and publisher who sent my copy for review.

Rachael English is the author of three novels: Going Back which was shortlisted for the most-promising newcomer award at the 2013 Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards
Each and Every One which like Going Back was a top five bestseller in Ireland, and,
The American Girl.
Like many authors, she also has a day job. She's a presenter on Ireland's most popular radio programme, Morning Ireland. 
Follow her on Twitter: @EnglishRachael 

or on Facebook: Facebook.com/RachaelEnglishwriter

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