In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity - including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey - Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.
In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads.
As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.
In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie's story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn't until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.
I received a physical copy of this book from the publishers for participation in a blog tour and in exchange for an honest review.
I developed an obsession with the story of the Titanic early on in my life. Surprisingly, my hunger for details of such a tragic occurrence in history did not come from a fondness for Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. I read a book called "A Night to Remember" ages ago and became so intrigued I started reading anything I could find on the subject. I don't know if it was out of morbid fascination or simply my heart aching for some semblance of happiness to come out of a nightmarish event. When I read the synopsis for this book, it immediately sparked my interest in the Titanic once more. I had not read any sort of historical fiction books on the subject in ages and wanted to reacquaint myself with it. Naturally, this made the decide to read this book a no-brainer.
The book opens on a young, seventeen year old girl departing her life in Ireland for a tip across the Atlantic to live in Chicago with her two aunts. Her mother had just died and instead of leaving young Maggie all alone, her aunt Kathleen decided to take her back to America with her. However, Maggie longs to stay in the home where her mother lived and died and her heart found love in a young man named Seamus. Hesitantly, Maggie goes vowing to one day return to her home and her sweetheart.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints. It skips from Maggie being the main focal point back in 1912 to her great-granddaughter, Grace, in 1982. Grace has just lost her father and is home from college helping her mother. After her father's passing, Grace has lost her fire for journalism. That is until Maggie finally confides in her about her experience on Titanic.
Maggie relives her life changing tragedy for her great-granddaughter. She tells her of the young steward she met who saved her life, the girls she traveled with from her hometown, and her experiences with the social class differences aboard the ship. All the while, Maggie regales Grace with how often her mind turned to Seamus and how deeply she cared for him. Through reliving the past, Maggie learns to let go and Grace learns to hold on to the things she cares about.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I am not ashamed to admit I sobbed my eyes out through over half the book. I wanted to reach through the pages and the sands of time and rescue those poor people from the frigid waters of the Atlantic. I could physically feel Maggie's longing for Seamus as well as her devastation of that terrible night. The book is slow moving simply because of the fact that you already know what is going to happen and are anxious to get there quickly. But the devil is in the details and the details are poetic and needed to give the story depth.
The Girl Who Came Home will have you laughing, crying, gasping, and raging all in a matter of a page flip. It is a fictional account of one of the most devastating events in history with a romance or two thrown in. Titanic and the passengers who died during it's sinking should never be forgotten.
Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer in Ireland and the U.K. and was the recipient of the Cecil Day Lewis Award for Emerging Writers in 2012. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children, and an accident-prone cat.