Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Format: Kindle, Paperback
Kitchen Canary is a novel about the power of greed, the toll of guilt and shame, and rewards of reconciliation. At the insistence of her parents, sixteen-year-old Katie O’Neil reluctantly left her beloved Galway. She joined her cousin, Moira Murphy, in Boston, Massachusetts to work as a nanny and domestic. In mid-nineteenth century Boston, Irish domestics were often referred to as Kitchen Canaries and considered property of their employers. As immigrants to America, the young women encounter rejection, fear, and humiliation. Their lives become entangled in the secrets and lies of their employers at 2102 Beacon Street. In four short years, Katie and Moira experience violation, despair, love, and acceptance. In this post-Civil War era, Boston is bustling with change as wealthy Englishmen and Boston Brahmins expand world trade routes, build railroads and develop land. Immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Poland establish neighborhoods, existing in overcrowded, disease-ridden shacks and tenements. They and Negroes flocking north, suffer hate, humiliation and rejection from the establishment. The only value they have to the rich Bostonians is their willingness to work for little money performing menial or back-breaking, dangerous jobs on the docks, and building railroads. This story is about the goodness of others, black, white, Irish and English whose strength prevails to overcome evil and guide Katie and Moira to true redemption.
Kitchen Canary hooked me from the very first chapter and I remained fully engaged until the very satisfying conclusion. Delivered with a quality rarely seen in historical fiction novels today, this fascinating tale journeys with two young women who immigrate from Ireland to Boston in 1868 to work as domestics. Their dreams are dashed, and innocence stolen when their employer, Charles Brennan, considers them his property, and violates them. The shame is so deep, they don’t even confide in each other.
Kitchen Canary, a debut novel for author Joanne C. Parsons, is a multilayered tale, extremely well researched, with details of nineteenth century Boston, and the struggle of the Irish who leave their ravaged homeland in search of a life of prosperity in America. It describes the challenges of negroes migrating North after the Civil War, and the suffering and rejection endured by immigrants from Italy, Poland and Ireland.
The story and prose flow like liquid gold as Katie O’Neil and Moira Murphy discover the secrets and lies of the Brennan household. They are young woman and eager to find acceptance and love, but the burden of their shameful secret hinders their happiness. Katie and Maura bond with other household help, freed slaves, Etta and William, and Mr. Brennan’s wife, Rose, to form a ‘family’. They commit desperate acts to overcome their abusive employer and free themselves.
The descriptive writing put me right on the scene. The well-developed characters are relatable and multifaceted. Their narrations, vivid and moving. The dialogue between characters is written to perfection. Even the evil Charles Brennan speaks in his own voice, allowing the reader a glimpse into the deprived childhood that shaped this angry, greedy man.
Joanne Parsons has a unique voice and is an exemplary writer. Kitchen Canary inspires as it reminds us of the sacrifices made by our grandparents and great grandparents, and the courage it took for immigrants and freed slaves to survive and assimilate into the American culture.
Don’t miss it.
Reviewed by Chick Lit Cafe