Book Review: Signed, a Paddy
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A poignant historical novel that finds its relevance in the politics of today
Signed, a Paddy is the story of Rosaleen MacNamara. After surviving the Potato Famine in Ireland, she leaves for the United States to start a new life—a move we can recognize as both devastating and hopeful. In addition to utilizing real events and historical figures from the mid-1800s, author Lisa Boyle tells this moving tale in a modern light.
Our heroine has seen death all around her and has had to grow up incredibly quickly. Having experienced injustice in her own country, she follows her burning desire to make a change; this change, she believes, is in The Land of the Free. But soon, she finds out America has its own injustices, and, after becoming quite close to one woman of color in particular, she decides she has to take action to fight against what she knows to be unjust.
Fifteen-year-old Rosaleen MacNamara doesn’t have anyone. Her Ma has just died from the starving effects of the potato famine, and her Da died long ago, working as a fisherman on his boat in a deadly storm. After a search for the rest of her family in her home country of Ireland, she finds that she has no one to turn to—they’re all gone now.
Rosaleen travels to America to make a new life for herself, and there she works at an inn with a Black woman named Marie. Marie and Rosaleen become quite close and slowly but surely, Rosaleen learns (as best as any white European could) what it means to be Black in America.
From there, Rosaleen continues her journey, finding a job at a cotton mill in Lowell, Massachusetts with other Irish women. She feels unsettled with her place in the world, both as an Irish immigrant and as a young woman who feels the call to speak out against injustices for her people and others—not only as an abolitionist, but as a factory worker who has seen horrors in the workplace. Rosaleen is wise beyond her years, continually learning and asking questions. She doesn’t claim to know her exact place in society and in this fight for equality, but she will keep searching until she does.
Lisa Boyle’s Signed, A Paddy is timely and true. It is clear that Boyle is passionate about the historical accuracy of the Irish Potato Famine and about the lives of Irish immigrant workers in places like New England. She expertly crafts Rosaleen as a character—a young, innocent girl at the beginning, until a new environment sparks a change on the rest of her life. It is out of necessity that Rosaleen matures—this is just one of the ways in which Boyle proves she is the right person to tell a story of such historical significance.
I’d recommend Signed, a Paddy to anyone who enjoys an underdog story rooted in stark reality. Boyle beautifully toes the line of staying true to history and originality in storytelling, never sacrificing one for the other. We grow close to Rosaleen and become protective of her very vulnerable position as a young immigrant girl on her own in America and the world.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Print Length: 409 pages
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