Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson
Published by Tyndale House Publishers ISBN 978-1-4143-6843-6
Trade paperback, $12.99, 385 pages
This must be the month for Irish immigrant stories. First we had the second in a trilogy, Kate Kerrigan's City of Hope (my review here). Now we have Cindy Thomson's Grace's Pictures, a story about a young Irish girl who comes to America in 1900, hoping to earn enough money to bring her mother over.
Grace was sent to live in a workhouse in Ireland after her mother was thrown out of their home. With no money, her mother was able to get Grace the opportunity to go to New York, where a church organization would help Grace find a job.
It always amazes me how these young people left their homes and families, got on a ship, and traveled across the sea, never truly knowing what would be awaiting them on the other side. What bravery that took!
Grace is taken to Reverend Clarke, a man of God who helps immigrants find work and form a community. My favorite line in the book is from Reverend Clarke, who said to Grace, "And I ask myself, is there more love in the world because of what I'm doing? If not, I need to change that." Imagine if everyone in the world followed that idea, what a lovely place this would be.
Grace finds work as a nanny to a family of five young children. Their mother appears indifferent and their father is a busy businessman, who wants to control everything and everyone. Grace has a hard time at first dealing with them all, but she grows to love the children.
Thomson has a way with a phrase, like this one: "Owen's mother and her friend jabbered so much a candle didn't have a chance of staying lit in the room." She drops us right into the setting, teaching us the slang of the day, such as "peeler" for police officer.
Her visual imagery is strong as well, describing a group of newsboys sleeping in a doorway as "huddled together like puppies." I immediately had that picture in my mind. Grace takes her young charges to Battery Park, and Thomson's description of that scene brought the place to life, as they dodged pretzel vendors and young boys" hawking trinkets".
The theme of immigrants and how they are perceived by the society is a timely topic, as Congress is now debating how best to deal with the immigration issue in our country. We can see in this novel that, although set over 100 year ago, the treatment of immigrants is a topic our country has grappled with for a long time.
A unique aspect of this story is Grace's infatuation with the newfangled Brownie camera. Grace meets a photographer and is entranced with his work. She saves her money, buys herself a simple camera, and teaches herself to takes photos. At times, this gets her into trouble as she accidentally takes photos of a mobster who doesn't want to be photographed. This storyline adds an interesting piece to the novel.
There is a love story, and some action as Grace's camera gets her into trouble. I liked that Grace found people who helped and encouraged her, rather than took advantage of her as we often see in stories like this. We also see New York at the turn of the century, along with the internal politics of the police department. Thomson clearly did a great deal of research for this novel.
If you like immigrant stories, Grace's Pictures is one you should not miss. I'm hoping that we meet Grace and her friends again in the future as she surely has more of her story to tell.
rating 4 of 5
Cindy Thomson's website is here (and you can read Chapter 1 of Grace's Pictures).
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