Ellie is a rural Irish girl, born to the snobby family in the village. As a child she feels isolated from the other children, except for John, with whom she shares an immediate kinship. When they grow into adults, it’s only natural that they fall in love and get married; it’s been happening for their entire lives. What isn’t natural is John’s zest for the Irish revolutionary movement and the aim to take the country back from the British. When he is seriously injured and needs an expensive operation to walk again, Ellie faces the reality of heading to New York City for a year and working to pay for his medical care. Once she’s there, though, Ellie discovers that she might not want to leave.
I’m of two minds about this novel, again. It was quite engaging while I was reading it and I loved the depiction of New York City, particularly the differences between the big fancy city with electricity everywhere and rural Ireland with basically nothing. I did think it was a little peculiar that the novel is titled Ellis Island but Ellie spends about three pages there! Still, it was interesting to read about it in fiction now that I’ve actually walked the halls of Ellis Island myself. At least one set of my great-grandparents went through the famed immigration island and even though Ellie goes after the initial rush, it’s still an interesting depiction.
It doesn’t really hold up to Brooklyn, which may be my favorite book this year and which covers a similar theme of an Irish girl moving to New York City to make money, and that definitely colored my interpretation of it as well. Ellie and Eilis are completely different girls and lead totally different lives; unfortunately I related more to Eilis. Ellie seems almost vain at times, especially closer to the end of the book. Mainly I loved that she eventually decided to make something of herself and seize the old American dream.
Unfortunately, I disliked most of the ending and I felt she was giving in to a life she didn’t really want to lead. Others have interpreted her return to Ireland differently, but I saw a girl giving up her real dreams for a man, and that’s just something I can’t get behind. Even if she still retained her ambitious bent, she isn’t living the life she wanted out of guilt.
While an engaging read, Ellis Island lacks substance and doesn’t really satisfy the ambitious female reader. While some might say that Ellie found what she really wanted, all I saw was her giving up her newfound happiness for the sake of tradition.
I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.