Hunger: A Tale of Courage is set in western Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of 1846, a time when a potato blight ruined the main source of food for Irish families. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation and disease during this terrible time. Twice that number is estimated to have emigrated to America and other countries in an effort to escape certain death. It is estimated that death and emigration caused the population of Ireland to drop between 20% to 25%, overall.
In this book, we see the dreadful famine through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine, the daughter of a tenant farmer. The story begins in the autumn of 1846, with Lorraine, her parents, and little brother Paddy being cautiously optimistic about a good potato crop—desperately needed after the blight caused last year’s crop to rot. All seems well, but the dreaded blight strikes again, leaving them (and everyone they know and love) with very little food and even fewer options: they had no money to purchase food, and were not permitted to hunt on the land owned by their English landlord. The outlook was bleak, to say the least.
Hard times became even harder as sickness spread, taking the lives of strangers and loved ones alike. A chance meeting with the daughter of their English landlord—a girl named Susannah—presented an opportunity for food, but Lorraine knew convincing the girl to help wasn’t going to be easy, thanks to the way the privileged landowners perceived the Irish. With her family and friends slowly starving to death, Lorraine had no choice but to try.
The famine years in Ireland are a particularly poignant part of history, and I rarely pass up the opportunity to read about it, fiction or otherwise. I expected to be emotionally invested in this story, and Napoli did not disappoint. She crafted a story that is mindful of the devastation wrought by the famine, with characters readers are easily able to connect with and feel empathy for—characters who show both strength and generosity even as they struggled to survive.
This book was the definition of unputdownable for me; I read most of it in one sitting. The end of the book contains a postscript, glossary, bibliography, author’s note and a timeline (Timeline of Ireland to the End of the Famine) that were as fascinating to read as the story itself. It’s a sure bet to be of interest to history buffs, as it gives a brief accounting of important points in Irish history.
I thought this was a wonderful book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I definitely recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
About the Book
Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.
It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?
Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?
A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.
About the Author
DONNA JO NAPOLI is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband.