Hunger: A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  When the potato crop fails for a second time in the fall of 1846, 12-year-old Lorraine and her family face a potentially deadly winter.  By November, they’re subsisting on cabbage and kale, and fever has hit their neighbors.  A chance meeting with the landlord’s daughter Susanna results in a sort of friendship between the two girls.  Susanna has been raised to believe that the Irish are lazy and complaining; Lorraine tries to convince her that their suffering is real.  Eventually Susanna comes up with a plan that provides Lorraine’s family and neighbors with some much-needed food.  It’s enough to get at least some of them through the winter, but before spring comes, tragedy has hit Lorraine’s family and many others.  Some families decide to take their chances on starting new lives in Scotland or North America, but in the end, Lorraine and her parents choose to stay in the country that they love.  Includes a glossary of Irish words, bibliography, and an extensive timeline of the history of Ireland.  259 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Readers will gain a clearer understanding of the history of Ireland and how prejudice played a large role in the tragedies that unfolded there in the mid nineteenth century.  Lorraine is a plucky narrator whose strength and love for Ireland shines through her difficult story.

Cons:  Much of the story is unrelentingly grim, unavoidable when writing about a period of famine and disease.  It’s hard to determine a recommended age group; a 12-year-old narrator suggests elementary, but the nature of the story may make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

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