Title: Signed, A Paddy
Author: Lisa Boyle
Genre: Historical fiction
Ireland, 1848. Fourteen-year-old Rosaleen watches her mother die. Her country is reeling from the great potato famine, which will ultimately kill more than one million people. Driven by a promise and her will to survive, Rosaleen flees her small coastal town.
She eventually arrives in America at the birth of the industrial revolution and is filled with hope and a new sense of independence. Yet the more Rosaleen becomes a part of this new world, the more she longs for a community she lost and a young man she can’t forget.
Through a series of both heartwarming and tragic events, Rosaleen learns that she can’t outrun the problems that come along with being Irish. And maybe she doesn’t want to.
Boudica was sick the minute she stepped onto the ship.
But I felt alive. I spent my days up on the deck, out of the way of the crew, letting the wind blow my hair. I watched the steady rhythm of the waves carelessly smacking up against the side of the ship, which did not put up a fight at all.
I tried to drag Boudica out of the dark for some fresh air, but she said looking at the waves and the uneven horizon made her stomach turn even worse, so she crawled back below and I was on my own again.
On the third morning, I noticed I had company. I was surprised to see it was the young man who’d stared at me when I boarded the ship. I got nervous. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be up on the deck so much. I was the only one who dared to stay up here, even though no one told us anything. We were left on our own and given food twice a day. But his presence was heavy, weighing on me. I started to fidget.
“How do you like it up here?” he asked.
“Better than down there,” I said. “Will you report me?” He laughed. “No one to report you to. Regular captain is on leave. I’m in charge, I guess. We’re just hauling those logs down below. You’re not even here on this ship. Not really.”
He came closer. He stood right next to me, watching the water. After a while, I looked up at his face to see if I could figure out what he was thinking. But his eyes were closed. He looked peaceful. So far away that I thought when he opened his eyes, he would be surprised to see me. But when he did open his eyes, he didn’t even look at me. He just walked away.
What was he thinking and seeing? Was he picturing his dead mother? Or smelling the burning peat of home before the stench of rotten potatoes and disease gagged his memory? Could he taste hand-rolled sausage and fresh eggs? Or only moldy bread and salted cabbage stew? Was everyone who would survive these horrors like me? Were they trying desperately to hold on to the past, the good memories, or were they trying to escape any whisper of a good life they once had, because it was just too painful?
I woke to a jerk the next morning. Vomit, urine, and seawater sloshed on the floor around me. Blinding rays of light escaped through the holes and cracks here and there, and the men above yelled to each other. The rock of the boat had changed. It was shorter and quicker.
My boots had slept next to me so that the vomit wouldn’t pool inside them. I slipped them on and prepared to walk through the swamp of human waste. Up on deck, everyone was rushing around. I watched from the stairs, afraid of getting in the way or getting shoved overboard. They were readying to dock the boat.
I had never seen a port like this. Boats lined up yard to yard along the coast, as far as I could see. Big ships, small boats, fishing vessels, passenger boats, cargo ships, shiny new ships with towering tubes coming out of the top deck. The sun was just rising into the sky, but already I had to squint, it was so bright. There were people on the ships’ decks, people waiting on docks, on the land, people arriving by horse and carriage. It had been so long since I had seen so many healthy people moving so quickly with something to do and somewhere to be. It was overwhelming. The sun and the smells and the noise and the shouting were too much. I thought I might get sick.
But before I could think about retreating below until we were called, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me. I nearly fell on my face, but I stumbled to my feet. I still could not see much because of the sun. The hand pulled me down a set of stairs, which led straight to the captain’s quarters.
It was dark, and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I could see it was the man from last night. “I know who you are,” he said to me.
“Who am I?” I asked, afraid that he had mistaken me for someone else—that he was insane and that I was alone with him.
“You served me soup at Father McSweeny’s. I was in a bad way. You see, my family is gone. All dead. I was in between trips and had spent my last coin two days before. I wouldn’t get paid again for eight days. You let me into the church. I thought you might be an angel. You seemed healthier than most.”
I noticed the exhaustion as he spoke. He did not want to be doing this, saying whatever he was about to say.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
Signed, A Paddy tells a unique coming of age story about an Irish orphan who comes to America during the potato famine. The story takes place between 1848 and 1850, and yet, the characters and the setting will feel real to readers. Not dusty and old, but raw and relevant. As one reader said, it was “so vividly portrayed on the page that I expected to look up and find my living room had disappeared.” This story of perseverance, determination, and courage will grip you until the last page and stay with you long after.
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Lisa Boyle has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Finksburg, Maryland, Lisa received bachelor’s degrees in journalism and international affairs from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. As part of her college program, Lisa traveled the Middle East and spent two months reporting on political and human-interest stories. She has been published in various online publications and magazines, and has held many different jobs over the years from cheesemonger, to educator at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum. Lisa and her husband Tim live in North Carolina with their daughter and a goofy-looking mutt named Lloyd. Signed, A Paddy is Lisa’s first novel.
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