Red Penguin Books (2019)
Reviewed by Jennifer Wilson for Reader Views (06/19)
“Becoming Herself” by Maureen Reid is the life story of Margaret, an Irish immigrant arriving in the US in 1896. Conveyed to us mostly through her journal entries, peppered with letters from family back in Ireland, this book tells us her personal thoughts and experiences in her own voice.
On a ship from Ireland, Maggie, her Ma, Da, and younger sister Nell experience the first of many major life changes as their Ma falls ill during the early stages of her pregnancy and dies at sea. Their Da is heartbroken and decides he cannot bear raising the girls alone, having left their older brother James in Ireland with his aunt and uncle.
At six years old Maggie, along with Nell, are left at an orphanage in Buffalo, New York, with only a small bag of possessions, including a letter from a fellow passenger describing their trip to America and the death of her mother. Margaret is immediately encouraged to lose her Irish accent to become more appealing to potential parents. She does eventually get adopted by the Meyers family, a great blessing after what you could call a rocky start in America.
Nineteen years with her wonderful adopted parents have passed when her mother passes, and Margaret begins journaling her life. Some entries are long and great in detail, some are just short blurbs by a woman grabbing a little time to herself between chores. This made me smile at the thought that life then, although completely different, was still just as busy. I found the details of the farm life, her descriptions of the new technologies and ideas of the time, as well as the sadness of the racism and discrimination to be very important to the story, and completely believable.
The characters are described in loving detail by this woman who genuinely loves her family and the people of her community. She doesn’t hold back telling the reader the good and bad of everyone included in the story. I was taken by surprise more than once when the author chose to go right when I was certain we were headed left. This historical fiction novel made me think about what the women of the past sacrificed so that myself and other women of this day and time could do the things that I certainly take for granted.
“Becoming Herself” by Maureen Reid made me seriously think about the way this country began. The obstacles that were overcome. If you are worried that this will read as a history book, or a man-bashing book about the suffrage movement, don’t be. This is a book that focuses on a young mother and wife who just wants to leave her small world a little better than when she found it, and isn’t that ultimately what we all want?