Tuesday 17 October 2023

Blog Tour: Sally In The City of Dreams by Judi Curtin, illustrator Rachel Cocoran (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E)

Check out the other tour stops!


 9th October 2023, The O'Brien Press, 288 pages, Paperback, Review Copy 

Summary from The O'Brien Press

It’s 1911 and young sisters Sally and Bridget are sailing to New York to find work – leaving behind their home and everything they know in Ireland. The city is so big and strange, but the sisters and their new friend Julia are determined to make the most of this exciting new world. They have each other, and if they work hard, New York is full of opportunities.

Then, when a false accusation threatens to destroy everything, the girls realise there’s nothing more important than sticking together.

Nayu's thoughts

It is an absolute pleasure to review Judy's latest books, as they are always wholesome and uplifting, even when danger strikes. That is certainly true for Sally In The City of Dreams, with a gorgeous cover by Rachel Cocoran whose work I have seen before and like a lot. It captures the essence of sisterhood and friendship. Sally and Bridget are really brave to go to America on their own, but their family needs the money and they are young (ages not revealed that I can recall but suspect younger than 18 years old), it's a lot of responsibility. They discover their American relative is not as kind as she appears, which was a bitter disappointment for them both. They make a friend with Julia whose own tale has its' share of ups and downs (all 3 girls get a happy ending).

Sally is the narrator, and the story is about their new jobs and how they learn to adjust to life in America. It is not all plain sailing at all - even I didn't know how discriminated against the Irish used to be. Their homesickeness was relatable, as was their yearning for all the finer things in life that they couldn't afford even if they saved up for it. But life has a way of surprising people, and they were able to send their family something nice after a lot of hardship. Being in trouble with the law is never easy, but it was made harder for the girls because they were in a foreign land, even if English was the main language there was terminology they didn't know and, unfortunately, the Irish were treated poorly and misjudged instantly by too many people. I liked the letters between Sally and her mother, it might have been nice to have her mother's in a slightly different font, but the cursive style suited the tone. I liked how no matter what Sally and Bridget stuck by each other. It was a shock to learn a certain personality trait of Bridget as she is the older sister and always seemed so confident. 

While thankfully children these days can't work as young as those in the past (well they shouldn't, even if they do in some parts of the world), Sally's tale is absolutely an insight into life back in the 1800s. Life without instant communication lead to some disappointing situations. But everything, and I do mean every plot point got a happy ending eventually, ones that may need tissues too.

Interview with Judi Curtin

Total fangirl moment was being able to ask Judi some questions about Sally In the City of Dreams. Please note the questions were asked before I'd read the novel, so I didn't anything about it.

Was it harder writing two main protagonists rather than just one? Not really. Even though Bridget and Sally are equally important to the story, Sally is the narrator. That means we see everything through her eyes - and it’s easier for me to write!

What made you decide to have sisters instead of say a sister and a brother? I thought of a sister and brother, but went with two sisters in the end. This is partly because my story was inspired by my grandmother’s emigration from Kerry to New York in 1912 - and she travelled with her sister. 

Have you or your family had personal experience with migrating to another country that might have influenced this tale?   Yes, apart from my grandmother and great aunt, mentioned above, my parents emigrated from Cork to London, where I was born. My brother and his wife also emigrated to England. Interestingly, all my emigrant family members returned to Ireland in the end. 

Was there an event or person which sparked the idea for Sally and Bridget’s tale?  The concept of a young person emigrating definitely was inspired by family members, but the story is pure fiction. I think it was helped by listening to the Bad Bridget podcast, which alerted me to the difficulties faced by the Irish in America in the early 1900’s. This strand was important to me, as there are so many immigrants in Ireland these days, and I am very aware of the discrimination they often face. 

Do you have a special writing mug or glass for your writing sessions? I have a selection! I take carefully timed coffee breaks, and part of the ceremony is choosing which of my pretty mugs to use.

Extract from Sally in the City of Dreams by Judi Curtin 

Chapter 2

‘Wake up, girls. It’s time to go.’

It was still dark outside, but Mammy’s candle gave enough light for Bridget and me to get up and wash our faces and put on our best dresses, which we’d laid out on the chair the night before.

Aggie and Joe half woke, stretching up sleepy arms for hugs, before settling back to their dreams. I pulled the blankets over their shoulders so they wouldn’t get cold. I knew they’d sometimes miss Bridget and me, but in their own little world of two, things wouldn’t change too much.

Tom was curled in a corner of the bed, with a little smile on his face, as if he were dreaming of something nice. I picked his book up from the floor, and turned to the page with the picture of beautiful Princess Tiana, so he’d have something pretty to look at when he woke.

Bridget and I kissed his soft, warm cheek. ‘Goodbye, my sweet boy,’ I whispered. ‘Be good, and safe until …’

I choked on the last words, as Bridget pulled me away. ‘No tears,’ she whispered. ‘We promised each other, remember? If we cry we’ll only make it harder for Mammy and Daddy.’

She was right, but I wasn’t sure I could keep my promise. I patted Tom’s curls, which were damp from sleep, and followed Bridget out to the kitchen.

‘Come here, Sal,’ said Mammy, taking the brush from the shelf. ‘Let me plait your hair for you one last ...

She didn’t finish, and I pinched my arm to stop myself from crying. Of course I could plait my own hair in America, I’d been doing it for years, but I still loved Mammy’s gentle but firm touch, and how she hummed to herself as she combed and braided. So I sat quietly and tried to store up the moment like a treasure so I could take it out in the future, and remember it.

 ‘I’ve heated some milk for you,’ said Daddy, handing Bridget and me a cup.

‘And here’s some bread for the journey to Queenstown,’ said Mammy, jumping up and wrapping a few slices in a cloth. ‘They say you’ll get nice food on the boat, and you won’t go hungry at all.’

Neither Mammy nor Daddy looked at us, and their voices were funny as if they’d both caught colds overnight.

I drank my milk, and looked at the trunk that was next to the door. Inside were our few bits of clothes, and the presents of stockings and scarves some of the neighbour women had made for Bridget and me. Also in the trunk was the seed cake Mammy’d made as a present for her second cousin, Catherine, who was letting us stay with her in New York, and had found jobs for Bridget and me.

‘What’s Cousin Catherine like?’ I asked, suddenly afraid. Catherine left Ireland before Bridget and I were born, so we’d never met her.

‘I can barely remember her,’ said Mammy. ‘She grew up a few miles away from here, and we were both only young ones when she left.’

‘Is she kind? Will she be good to us?’

‘Didn’t she send the money for your fare?’ said Mammy. ‘And I heard a few years ago she sent money for another two girls from the other side of her family – wasn’t that a very kind thing to do?’

‘Are those girls still with her?’ I had no idea what New York was like, but I suddenly had a lovely picture in my mind. Cousin Catherine would have a big house, maybe near a stream or waterfall. There would be lots of bedrooms, and all the girls she brought to America would live there and be best friends.

‘I think there was a letter saying those two girls moved on to California a few months ago,’ said Mammy.

‘California,’ I sighed. That sounded even more exotic than New York. Maybe one day I’d actually see it for myself.

There was a sharp knock on the door. ‘That’ll be Connie,’ said Daddy. ‘Aren’t you lucky girls altogether that he has business in town today, and has room for you on the cart. Otherwise it would have been the train for you, and a night in lodgings in Queenstown.’

Bridget put her cup on the table, wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders and picked up her basket.

‘Come on, Sally,’ she said. ‘Get a move on. The boat won’t wait for us.’

As I picked up my bag and took my shawl from the peg, I suddenly felt sick and weak.

What were we doing? Why were we leaving our cosy home and our family to voyage across the sea to America?

I wanted to run to Mammy and throw myself into her arms and never let her go again.

I wanted to take Daddy’s hand and go for a long, long walk through the fields I’d known all my life.

I wanted to go back to bed and cuddle next to my sweet little brother, and tell him stories that would make him laugh like mad.

Manny came and put her arms around Bridget and me. ‘Be good girls,’ she said. ‘Promise me you’ll stay together and look out for each other. As long as you’re together all will be well.’

‘We promise,’ we both said, as Mammy pulled away and stood in the shadows, maybe thinking we wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

Daddy slipped some coins into Bridget’s bag. ‘I’m sorry I can’t afford more, but maybe this will help a little in the early days. After that you’ll be fine – sure aren’t the streets of New York paved with gold? Be safe, my dear girls. Now go, before Connie gets fed up of waiting.’

So Bridget and I walked out into the cold darkness on the first steps of our big journey.

From Sally in the City of Dreams by Judi Curin, in bookshops now, priced €12.99/£11.99. Published by The O’Brien Press.

Suggested read

Be sure to check out Judi's other work which it turns out I've been reviewing since 2011! I have sadly not yet read all her books, but a fair few as you can see! Here's to another decade of Judi's work ^u^ Links lead to my reviews which are all highly rated.



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1 comment:

Extra said...

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