Today I’m participating in Molly Roe’s blog tour for her YA novel, Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires. Molly Roe is the pen name of Mary Garrity Slaby, a veteran language arts & reading teacher at Lake-Lehman Junior Senior High School. Mary holds a Ph.D. in education from Temple University, and Pennsylvania teaching certification in six areas. She has pursued the hobby of genealogy for the past decade. Mary was born in Philadelphia, raised in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania and currently lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania with her husband, John. They are parents of two grown children, Melissa and John Garrett (who is the cover illustrator of Call Me Kate). Digging into the past has given Mary newfound respect for her ancestors and a better understanding of history. Call Me Kate is the first in the author’s trilogy of historical novels loosely based on the lives of the strong women who preceded her. Her debut novel won the American Mom’s Choice Award.
I have reviewed Call Me Kate but, before I post my thoughts about the book, why don’t you read an excerpt from it? You’ll find it here: http://www.tribute-books.com/callmekate10.pdf
Call Me Kate: Meeting The Molly Maguires is a young adult novel set in the coal mining region of northeastern Pennsylvania during the early 1860s. An accident at the local mine, which injures the main character’s father, opens the novel and pulls the reader into the story. With her father unable to work, 14 year old Katie McCafferty and her family face economic disaster. So Katie, the eldest child, is forced to leave school and enter domestic service. Meanwhile her friends, twins Con and Dinny Gallagher, who work at the same mine where her father was injured, also experience the hardships of mine work and the indifference of the mine owners. A subsequent mine accident seriously injures her friend, Dinny, and pushes Con into association with the militant Mollie Maguires who often use violence in their fight against the discrimination and unsafe conditions that the Irish experience in the mines. The plot follows Katie’s efforts to dissuade Con from involvement with these violent activists and to stop their plan to stage a violent act at a peaceful draft protest.
Roe’s vivid depiction of the era, especially the children’s experiences, brings the mining community and the local estate house to life for the reader. She uses a skilful blend of action and explanation of historical events to set the story in its American Civil War context. The story’s climax draws together a group of anti-draft protesters staging a peaceful demonstration with the agitating Molly Maguires who plan to turn the protest violent. I would have liked a bit more information about both groups of activists as the connection between the two groups is not always clear. A young reader, unfamiliar with this period, might not understand who is driving events and why. Nevertheless, the entertaining story progresses with steadily increasing tension that will hold the reader’s interest to the end of the book.
The main character, Katie, is well drawn with attitudes and goals that fit her class and era. She’s feisty and brave but not implausibly heroic. Her strong sense of duty to her family makes her responsible and hardworking. Her role in the plot is credible; she doesn’t single-handedly save the day but her actions are important to the outcome. I like the fact that loyalty not love motivates Katie to help her friend, Con, and steer him away from danger. It’s refreshing to see a heroine motivated by something besides romantic love.
We get a good sense of both the Irish and American characters in the story. Except for words like ‘begorra’ tossed into Irish characters’ conversation, Roe captures the Irish phrases and manner of speaking convincingly. She also makes young readers aware of the different viewpoints of immigrant and native born characters. At times the dialogue is somewhat stilted as she uses conversations to convey information but this isn’t a major problem. The bigotry and vengefulness of one historical character, newspaper editor Benjamin Bannan, is particularly well depicted.
My only criticisms are minor ones. The book’s subtitle, Meeting The Molly Maguires, is a bit insipid. I would prefer something more dynamic to indicate that Katie not only meets them but opposes their actions. Also, if I saw the book on a bookshop shelf, the front cover would not inspire me to pick it up and examine it. The picture is rather dull and does not convey action or excitement. It does not do justice to the content.
But, overall I found this novel immensely readable. It is well researched and Roe has a good grasp of the problems and events in nineteenth century Pennsylvania. This novel will bring history alive for young readers and entertain them at the same time. That’s the perfect combination for an historical fiction.