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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson Book Review

Grace McCaffery hopes that the bustling streets of New York hold all the promise that the lush hills of Ireland did not. As her efforts to earn enough money to bring her mother to America fail, she wonders if her new Brownie camera could be the answer. But a casual stroll through a beautiful New York City park turns into a hostile run-in with local gangsters, who are convinced her camera holds the first and only photos of their elusive leader. A policeman with a personal commitment to help those less fortunate finds Grace attractive and longs to help her, but Grace believes such men cannot be trusted. Spread thin between her quest to rescue her mother, do well in a new nanny job, and avoid the gang intent on intimidating her, Grace must put her faith in unlikely sources to learn the true meaning of courage and forgiveness.
Cindy Thomson
Cindy Thomson
Cindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. She combined her love of history and baseball to co-author the biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, which was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research's Larry Ritter Book Award. In addition to books, Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio. Visit her online at www.cindyswriting.com.

Author Q & A     About the Author . . . Cindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing. In addition to books, Cindy has written articles for numerous online and print publications. She is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio. 
1. What was your inspiration for this book, Grace’s Pictures?
When the Brownie Camera was introduced, it changed photography forever. What was before expensive and not very portable, suddenly became available for the average person. I read a contemporary commentary that expressed the concern that with everyone carrying a camera, someone could have his/her photograph taken without permission, and what an invasion of privacy that would be. That got me thinking…what if that happened, and at a time before there were very many mug shots available of criminals.
I love writing about immigrants because their stories are a part of who we are today. If not for their bravery and ingenuity, our lives would be much different today, and probably more difficult. 
2. Tell me about your main character, Grace McCaffery. Was her character based upon anyone in particular?
Grace comes to America wounded by her experiences of having an abusive father, being evicted from her home by the police, and then having to survive in a workhouse. When her mother gets remarried, to a policeman no less, Grace is horrified. In her mind, avoiding the kind of people who hurt you is the only way to stay safe. When she is sent to America to start a new life, she is not certain she wants to go. She wishes for the confidence and joy she sees in others around her, and she tries to capture it in drawings and snapshots so she can better study it. I know a lot of people, me for one, who would rather observe for a while before stepping out and trying something new. But historically, immigrants could not do that. They were thrust into change and had to adapt and endure.
Grace, like most fictional characters, is not based on any particular person. She is a conglomeration of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who came to this country seeking a better life, but without many options to support themselves. They must have been frightened at first by this vast new country, but somehow they overcame that fear and founded our American families. 
   Author Q & A     3. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?
A lesson that I hope is learned in this story is that God provides what we need, but many times it requires us to put aside our preconceived ideas. No matter what disadvantages we start with, we can turn things around, with God’s help.  
4. How do you expect Grace’s story to resonate with women?
Grace, a young woman who was not nurtured much as a child, becomes a nurturer. She is a nanny with a role that becomes essential for the children she cares for. I think most women are nurturers. Unfortunately, Grace had a far from ideal childhood. I think many women struggle with not having been nurtured themselves. Grace’s story illustrates the hope that God can turn that around, and even in unexpected ways. Grace meets someone who cares for her, who just happens to work in that dreaded occupation—a policeman. 
5. As a writer, what did you particularly enjoy about crafting this story?
I loved learning about Ellis Island, visiting New York City, and imagining those immigrants of the early 20th century moving along the same paths I was exploring. I loved writing about how the children Grace cared for helped to change her. History is fascinating to me, and it's a privilege to be able to write about it. 
6. What is your hope for this story? How would you like it to impact readers?
I hope readers will be transported to a time in history when everything was changing at a rapid pace and experience a bit of what their ancestors’ lives were like. I would like readers, through Grace’s Pictures, to not only appreciate the sacrifices their ancestors made, but also find the courage to meet their own challenges—everyone has them.  
7. How has this novel helped you to grow as a storyteller?
Grace was at first a difficult character to figure out. I had a loving father who passed away a few months before I started working on this book. Grace, who did not have a loving father, stretched me a bit, but it was good to explore what life was like for her and try to imagine how someone like her could not only survive but thrive. 
   Author Q & A     8. What is it about this time period in history that made you want to write about it?
New inventions were constantly popping up, things that we take for granted today. For instance, telephones were becoming more widely available, but immigrants were not familiar with them. Same with electricity. There was a huge disparity between the rich and the poor, and the middle class was the minority. Monopolies were not yet forbidden. The rich were extremely rich. The poor were extremely poor, and the conditions in the tenements were disgraceful. And yet, this was not overlooked. There were gangs and corrupt police, but also scores of charities working hard to protect, educate, and care for immigrants. And it was also a time period of huge numbers of immigrants coming to the country, most through Ellis Island, so in that way this time period has impacted a great many Americans today.  
9. What lessons can we learn from the pages of historical fiction?
The Bible tells us, “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16, NLT).  Historical fiction uses the power of story to help us find those old ways. We deceive ourselves if we think no one has experienced the struggles we have. Someone has. Why not learn those stories and be led by them? 
10. What is one of the best pieces of advice or encouragement you have received?
I’m always open to sound advice. Here is one that has encouraged me. It’s from a tea bag quote. 
A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere. ~Joyce A. Meyer

December 1900 “May I take your photograph, miss?” Grace McCaffery spun around. She had passed through the inspections without a problem and was on her way downstairs, where she would meet the aid society worker. What now? “A photograph?” A man stood smiling at her, next to a large camera. She’d only seen one of these machines before, and that was on the ship. “Why?” She bit her lip. Was everything about to fall apart now? “For prosperity. It’s your first day in America.” He handed her a small piece of paper. “My name and address, should you later wish to see it. It will only take a moment of your time, and then you are free to continue on.” Free sounded good. “What do I do?” “Stand under that  window—” he pointed toward one of the massive  windows—“and look this way.” Streams of  late-  afternoon sun shone in through the ornamental ironwork, tracing odd shapes on the tiled floor. She did as he asked. “Now look up, miss.” He snapped his fingers. “Look toward the camera.”  
Her eyelids were iron weights, but she forced herself to look his way, wanting to get it over with. After she heard a slight pop coming from the camera, he dismissed her. “Welcome to America!” America! Ma should see Ellis Island and all the people milling about. Grace sat down on a bench just to the right of the stairs to collect the thoughts rambling around in her head like loose marbles. Imagine, a girl like her, now free in America. She would not have envisioned it herself a few weeks ago. Exhausted, she dropped her face to her hands as she relived what had led her here. [ “Must go to the workhouse.” Huge hands snatched wee Grace from her bed. “Your da is dead. Behind in your rent and got no means.” Grace kicked with all her might. “Ma!” An elbow to her belly. Burning. She heaved. “Blasted kid!” The policeman tossed her onto a wagon like garbage. “Ma!” “I’m here, Grace. Don’t cry.” Her mother cradled her as the wagon jolted forward. “Oh, my heart. You are special, wee one. So special to God.” Heat emanated from the burning cottage, the temperature torturing Grace’s face. She hid against her mother’s shoulder. Later, they were pulled apart and herded into a building. A dark hallway. The sound of water dripping. Stairs. Up the stairs. Following other children. So many children. Was her mother dead?
The sound of heels clacking down steps brought Grace back to the present. She sat up straight and watched hordes of people march down the stairs. They were divided into three groups according to destination. She knew her mother had loved her, but God? Her mother had been wrong about that. God loved good people like Ma. Not Grace. Grace knew she was not good enough for God. So many of the people passing in front of her were mere children, most with parents but some without. Grace wondered if they were as afraid as she had been when she was separated from her mother in the workhouse, the place Irish folks were taken to when they had nowhere else to go. All these people now seemed to have a destination, though. A new start. Like her. In America she hoped she could mend her fumbling ways and merit favor. A wee lass approached the stairs with her hand over her mouth, the registration card pinned to her coat wrinkled and stained with tears. Grace was about to go to her and tell her everything would be fine. After all, this great hall, this massive building, was not in Ireland. They were in the land of the free. They’d just seen Lady Liberty’s glowing copper figure in the harbor, hadn’t they? But the lass, obviously having mustered her courage, scram- bled down the steps and into the mass of people. Would the child be all right? No mother. No parents at all. It had happened to Grace. Free one day, sentenced by poverty the next. She pulled her hand away from her own mouth. In the workhouse she’d had this nightmare and cried out. She’d been whipped
Not now. Not ever again. She struggled to remember the song her mother sang to her at bedtime. “Thou my best thought by day or by night . . .” She couldn’t remember any more of it. She’d forgotten. The truth was, she didn’t know if everything would be all right. She rose and followed the orders she’d been given right before the photographer had approached her. Down the steps to the large room where the lady from the charity would meet her. She rubbed her free hand along the handrail as she walked, barely able to believe she was in another country now, far across the Atlantic Ocean. If it hadn’t been for the miserable voyage in steerage, the stench from sweaty, sick passengers that remained even now, and wobbling knees weak from too little food, she might believe she was dreaming. Had it really been just a few weeks ago when she’d sat opposite the workhouse master’s desk and twisted the edge of her apron between the fingers of her right hand as he spoke to her? “Eight years you’ve been here, Grace,” he’d said. “Aye.” She’d stopped counting. “You are a young woman now, with some potential to be productive. Yet there is no employment in this country of yours. Nothing you can do.” He was British and had little patience for the Irish. She’d held her head low. “And so, Grace, you’ve been sponsored to leave the work- house and go to America.” He dipped the nib of his pen in an inkwell and scribbled, not looking up. “What do you mean, sir?” “America. You leave from Dublin in two days. I’ve got your papers in order. And this.” He pushed an envelope toward her.
There were more workers in that place than she expected. In Ireland only a handful of employees kept the inmates in line. She reminded herself again that she was in America. People care about folks here, now, don’t they? She opened the note and reread the part at the end, the words her mother’s husband had scrawled there.
Your mother wants you out of the workhouse. With no other options, I have arranged for you to go to America, where you will find work and no doubt prosper. Pin this to your dress for the journey. It is the name of a man my connections say will take good care of you in New York and arrange a job. I have written him to let him know when you will arrive. S. P.
The immigration official upstairs had told her not to expect this man to meet her, but rather someone who worked for him, mostly likely a woman from an immigrant aide society. “Don’t worry,” he’d told her. “They’ll have your name.” As much as Grace wanted to crumple up the paper and toss it away, she dared not. Following directions had been essential to getting along in the workhouse, and she had no reason to abandon that thinking now. She had managed to survive back there, even though she was apart from her mother, who had worked out of Grace’s sight until she got married and left the workhouse altogether. Surviving was a victory and perhaps the best she could have hoped for then. She glanced down at the writing again. S. P. Feeny was a peeler, a policeman, like those who tore Grace and her mother from their home when Grace was but ten years old. Grace had
 thought her life was as good as over when she heard about the marriage. But now she was in America. She blinked back tears as she thought about her unknown future. What if her father had been right when, so long ago, he’d told her she needed him to survive, could not do it alone? His death had forced them into the workhouse, and she had survived without him then, hadn’t she? But now? Now she really was alone and she was not sure she could endure. And yet, she must. She mentally rehearsed her instructions, the ones Feeny had written down. She’d done what she’d been told so far. Now she was supposed to wait. But how long? Running her fingers down her skirt to wipe away perspira- tion, she hoped she would not say the wrong thing when this stranger claimed her. Would they understand her in America? Did she speak proper English well enough? As much as her stomach churned, she mustn’t appear sick, even though the doc- tor had already hurriedly examined her along with her fellow passengers. She’d heard stories. They sent sick people to a hos- pital and often they were never heard from again. Perhaps they executed the ones who didn’t die. Or they put them back on the ship to return to Ireland. As bad as it was facing an unknown future in America, at least there was hope here that could not be found in the workhouse. So long as they let her stay. She glanced over at a family. Mother, father, son, and daugh- ter clung to each other. They would make it. Together they had strength. Grace had no one. Soon a crowd of tall men jabbering in a language she didn’t understand entered the room. Grace squeezed the note in her hand. As much as she didn’t want S. P. Feeny’s help, she’d needed a sponsor to start this new life. She had no choice but
 to trust his instruction. If there is one thing a policeman like Feeny knows, it’s the rules. Whether or not they abide by them is another matter. “Where you from?” a  tawny-  haired lass sitting next to her asked. “County Louth.” She thought it best not to mention the workhouse. The girl nodded. Good. She didn’t seem to want to ask anything else. After a few moments, sensing the girl’s nervousness, not unlike her own, Grace gave in. “And you? Where are you from?” The girl sat up straight. “County Down.” “Oh. Not far.” Grace swallowed hard. They were both far from home. An attendant stood on a box and raised his voice. “Mary Montgomery? Miss Mary Montgomery, please.” The girl next to Grace stood and went to him. “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake, miss.” A brief moment later the lass was gone from the room. Escorted off somewhere. Grace turned to the men seated behind her. “Where are they taking her?” They shrugged. Only one of them met her gaze. “Don’t be worrying, lass. Could be she’s in the wrong place. Could be her family didn’t come to claim her. Could be ’bout anything, don’t you know?” Grace tried to breathe, but the room felt hot and noisy. “You can do this,” she heard her mother say from the recesses of her mind. In the workhouse, everyone was the  same—  wore matching gray uniforms, used identical spoons, slurped the same watery stirabout, marched together from dining hall to dormitory a the same exact time day after day, month after month, year after year. It was a routine she could count on. She glanced around at the faces near her. Square jaws, rounded chins. Black hair, locks the color of spun flax. Brightly colored clothing, suits the color of mud. So many differences. And so many tongues. Where she’d come from, there had been no question of how to act, what to say, who to look at. But here? She turned and kept her eyes on her feet and the trim of the red petticoat her mother had given her to travel in when she’d met her at the docks. Oh, Ma! When Grace had been able to look into her mother’s  green-  gray eyes, she found assurance. On the ship, Grace had tried to emblazon her mother’s face on her memory so it would always be there when she needed to see it. She’d even sketched her mother on some paper with a charcoal pencil another passenger gave her. She had the sketch in her bag with her meager belongings. Not much, but all she had now. “Thanks be to God.” “God have mercy.” “God bless our souls.” “The grace of God on all who enter.” . . . Her mother never failed to acknowledge God. She was a good woman. The best. Grace was so far away now from that umbrella of assurance. She focused on the immigration official calling out names. Survival was human instinct, and humans adapted. She’d learned to do it once before. Perhaps she could manage to exorcise her father’s voice from her head, the one that told her she was incapable, and actually make a life, a good life, for herself in America. Grace’s mother had held her at arm’s length when they said  good-  bye on the docks in Dublin. She’d rubbed Grace’s cheeks with her thumbs. “The best thing for you is to go to America. You are not a child anymore. I could not let you stay in the workhouse.
 My review
 Grace's pictures brings to life a very important time in US history. Many people came through Ellis Island looking for an opportunity to start a new life. Many had nothing with them but the only few items they could carry. Grace is a young woman, alone. She thinks she may have a plan, the only thing wrong with this idea is that sometimes you make the wrong choice and wind up in more trouble than you bargained for. I give this book a 5/5  I was given this book for the purpose of a review and all opinions are my own.

Cindy Thomson

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