Kitchen Canary is the perfect book club read. Immediately engaging, historical, and filled with both hope and anguish. At 153 pages, it can be read in a day. This is especially good if you're a last-minute book club reader like me. Within sentences of beginning Kitchen Canary, I was swept into the latter half of the nineteenth century with a story both compellingly current, and rich in history.
1868 Galway, Ireland. A young woman is forced by poverty, and her parent’s hope for a better life, to travel by steerage to Boston, Massachusetts where a cousin has secured a position for her as a domestic nanny – a kitchen canary. The journey is fierce, the welcome, rebarbative – with the Irish being a necessary, but sometimes unwelcome, component in the workings of wealthy households in Boston
Katie O’Neil learns, in vividly painful fashion, that the master of the house controls everything. His staff, his children – even his own wife – are considered property to be used and abused however he pleases. We watch Katie’s struggle first-hand, as well as through the eyes of those around her. Author Joanne Parson’s clearly titled and easily transitioned use of multiple narratives gives us views into all sides of this story, enabling different perspectives through each ensemble character's eyes.
Kitchen Canary is a heart-wrenching tale of broken trusts and broken spirits. It's also a love story. Throughout the telling there is a silver thread of hope – the hope for a better life, the hope of a future that includes a husband and children, and the desire to make one’s own way in the harsh world of unwanted immigrants. We find ourselves rooting for Katie, and all the Irish immigrants who fight the daily battle to survive. The backdrop of this novel is filled with colorful nuggets of post-Civil War Bostonian life along with an inner look at the life of domestic servants during a time when recently freed Blacks were given protection in the North, while the Irish were treated like indentured slaves.
Royal Dragonfly Book Awards gave Kitchen Canary first-place honors in its Historical Fiction category, and honorable mention in its Fiction Novel category. This debut novel was also recognized as a finalist in Historical Fiction for Independent Publishers of New England.
Kitchen Canary will surely drive any group toward a lively discussion of their own families' immigration heritage. I only wish this one-hundred-fifty-year-old story of a hopeful, hardworking foreigner being abused for the gain of a powerful and wealthy man were an archaic thing of the past. One can still hope.