Christy is a Traveller, what Irish gypsies call themselves, in the 1950s. He’s eleven, and his family is about to stay in one town for a whole 40 days and 40 nights for Lent so he and his cousin, Martin, can get ready for confirmation. Christy has always thought his mam died giving birth to him, but when his grandda dies, he finds a newspaper clipping that shows his mam holding him when he’s months old. Thus begins a quest to find out who he really is.
The particular copy I read I won on a book blog somewhere (I’m afraid I didn’t write down the name), but I also received an ARC during one of the holiday swaps one year. It’s interesting to me, then, that this book wound up on my tbr pile both because I was interested and because someone else thought I would enjoy it. And of course I did.
It is honestly, immediately abundantly clear that Christy’s mother isn’t a Pavee (a Traveller). I was thus skeptical that the story would hold my interest, since predictable ones don’t tend to. I am pleased to say that I was wrong about this on both counts. Although it’s true that Christy’s mother isn’t a Traveller, everything else about her and Christy’s history is actually quite surprising and moving. I’m glad I stuck with it.
The book examines many different issues, some universal and others specific to Irish history. There of course is the issue of identity. Who we are and what makes us that. Is it nature or nurture? The often tough relationship between fathers and sons during the son’s adolescence is also wonderfully presented. Of course a book about gypsies also addresses prejudice, stereotyping, and the norm. Cummins doesn’t sugar coat things. She shows the positive and negative aspects of Traveller culture, which is as it should be. No culture is all perfect or all bad. What the book does a great job of doing is showing how kids learn prejudice and how multiculturalism can enrich everyone’s lives. Some people are one way and some another, and neither is necessarily bad. The book also touches on the animosity between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, as well as the very real issue of Irish society stealing babies from single mothers in that time period. I know that sounds like a lot, and honestly I’m surprised now that it’s all listed out at how much was touched upon. Cummins strikes the perfect balance of touching on real issues without ever seeming pushy or forced.
Although the storyline and characters are good, it didn’t 100% draw me in. I think it moves a bit too slowly for me in the first half or so of the book. I also, honestly, struggled to like Christy. I eventually came to understand his viewpoint and choices, but I still find him kind of annoying. His father, on the other hand, is incredibly interesting and wonderful, and I kind of wish we had a book about him instead of about Christy. But, some readers enjoy more slowly paced books and others might relate better to Christy than I did. It just personally is what made it a book I liked but didn’t love.
Overall, this book is an interesting entry in historic Irish fiction. It looks at Ireland in the 1950s through the eyes of a small band of gypsies, which is certainly a unique viewpoint. The writing is fluid, if a bit slow-moving, and the plot is not as predictable as it seems at first. Recommended to fans of historic fiction and works set in Ireland.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Won on a book blog (If it was yours, let me know, and I’ll link to you!)