The year is 1920. Ellie Hogan is madly in love with her husband John and looking forward to their future of living on and maintaining their farm in Ireland. But when John, a soldier in the Irish Republican Army, is met with a serious injury requiring surgery, Ellie knows she must figure out a way to pay for the treatment her husband desperately needs. So Ellie contacts a childhood friend who is living and working in New York City, and she is immediately given a job as a maid for a wealthy New York woman. Upon her arrival in New York, Ellie is overwhelmed with all the new things she has to learn about and experience, but soon she gets into the swing of things and begins to feel at home in America. But John is in Ireland, waiting patiently for her return home. Ellie is faced with an almost impossible decision – stay in New York, the city she’s fallen in love with, or return to Ireland where the true love of her life is waiting for her.
I’m always in the market for a good historical fiction novel, so when I heard about Ellis Island I was immediately intrigued. I was thrilled to discover that Ellis Island was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I found myself drawn into the story right from the very first page, and my enjoyment of the novel did not cease until I turned the very last page.
I loved the peek into rural Ireland this novel afforded me. Ellie and John grew up in a poor, tight-knit farm community, and over the course of the novel Kerrigan illustrates perfectly what it must be like to live in those kinds of circumstances. The people in the town, while being very close, are also very cliquish and gossipy. Growing up, Ellie never fit in with her classmates because her parents didn’t fit in with the other adults in their town. Her marriage to John helps give her roots but also inspires her to grow wings, based on his need for the surgery. And once Ellie spends time in New York, she can’t imagine going back to her (what she perceives as) small, insignificant life on the farm. The strong ties she felt to this life she really didn’t even want showed me just how much small-town life in that time would pull a person in. They truly took pride in their farms, their homes, and everything else about their lives – especially since this was just after they became independent from the English. It really was a joy to read about this part of Irish history.
In addition to a peek into rural 1920’s Ireland, Ellis Island gives the reader a thorough look into New York City at that same point in history. Ellie hobnobbed with the most influential socialites of that day, so the reader really gets a taste of the kind of luxury enjoyed by the richest people in New York at that time. Also, since Ellie came into America via Ellis Island, the book gives the reader a look at what the immigrant experience was like at that time. This was truly historical fiction at its best, and I loved every second of it.
In addition to loving the historical fiction aspects of this novel, I loved the character of Ellie. She is resourceful and smart, plucky and very determined. She’s a dutiful wife but also clear on the fact that she needs to do more than take care of her home and her husband. Her courage in going to America by herself is inspiring and the fact that she assimilated so well and so quickly is pretty amazing. I loved reading this story about her and from her perspective. She was truly the perfect heroine of this novel and I honestly loved everything about her.
I cannot possibly continue explaining how much I enjoyed Ellis Island without encouraging you to just read it! If you enjoy historical fiction with an excellent main character, this book is absolutely not to be missed.