Nory Ryan's Song

Nory Ryan's Song

by Patricia Reilly Giff


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Nory Ryan's family has lived on Maidin Bay on the west coast of Ireland for generations, raising a pig and a few chickens, planting potatoes, getting by. Every year Nory's father goes away on a fishing boat and returns with the rent money for the English lord who owns their cottage and fields, the English lord bent upon forcing the Irish from their land so he can tumble the cottages and clear the fields for grazing. Times are never easy on Maidin Bay, but this year, a terrible blight attacks the potatoes. No crop means starvation. Twelve-year-old Nory must summon the courage and ingenuity to find food, to find hope, to find a way to help her family survive.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440418290
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 09/28/2002
Series: Nory Ryan Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 214,321
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.63(h) x 0.46(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Patricia Reilly Giff has written more than 50 books for young readers, including the Kids of the Polk Street School series.

Read an Excerpt


Someone was calling.

        "Nor-ry. Nor-ry Ryan."

        I was halfway along the cliff road. With the mist coming up from the sea, everything on the path below had disappeared.

        "Wait, Nory."

        I stopped. "Sean Red Mallon?" I called back, hearing his footsteps now.

        "I have something for us," he said as he reached me. He pulled a crumpled bit of seaweed out of his pocket to dangle in front of my nose.

        "Dulse." I took a breath. The smell of the sea was in it salty and sweet. I was so hungry I could almost feel the taste of it on my tongue.

        "Shall we eat it here?" he asked, grinning, his red hair a mop on his forehead.

        "It'll be over and gone in no time," I said, and pointed up. "We'll go to Patrick's Well."

        We reached the top of the cliffs with the rain on our heads. "I am Queen Maeve," I sang, twirling away from the edge. "Queen of old Ireland."

        I loved the sound of my voice in the fog, but then I loved anything that had to do with music: the Ballilee church bells tolling, the rain pattering on the stones, even the carra-crack of the gannets calling as they flew overhead.

        I scrambled up to Mary's Rock. As the wind tore the mist into shreds, I could see the sea, gray as a selkie's coat, stretching itself from Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, America.

        Sean came up in back of me. "We will be there one day in Brooklyn."
        I nodded, but I couldn't imagine it. Free in Brooklyn. Sean's sister, Mary Mallon, was there right now. Someone had written a letter for her, and Father Harte had read it to us. Horses clopped down the road, she said, bringing milk in huge cans. And no one was ever hungry. Even the sound of it was wonderful. Brook-lyn.

        The rain ran along the ends of my hair and into my neck. I shook my head to make the drops fly and thought of my da on a ship, the rain running down his long dark hair too. Da, who was far away, fishing to pay the rent. He had been gone for weeks, and it would be months before he came home again.

        I swallowed, wishing for Da so hard I had to turn my head to hide my face from Sean. I blew a secret kiss across the waves; then we picked our way up the steep little path to Patrick's Well.

        We sat ourselves down on one of the flat stones around the well and leaned over to look into the water. People with money threw in coins to sink to the bottom. Granda said that might be why it took so long for those prayers to be answered.
        But not many people had coins to drop into the well. Instead there was the tree overhead. People tied their prayers to the branches: a piece of tattered skirt, the edge of a collar.

        "I see my mother's apron string." Sean pointed up as he tore a bit of dulse in two and handed me half.

        I nodded, sucking on a curly edge. I looked up at the tree. A strip of my middle sister Celia's shift was hanging there. Now, what did that one want? She had no shame. There it was, a piece of her underwear left to wag in the wind until it rotted away. Every creature who walked by would be gaping at it.

        I stood up quickly, moving around to the other side of the well to look down at our glen. The potato fields were covered with purple blossoms now, and stone walls zigzagged up and down between them.

        And then, something else.

        "Sean," I said, "what's happening down there?"
        Absently he tore the last bit of dulse in two. "Men," he said slowly. "Bailiffs with a battering ram. Someone is being put out of a house."

        Someone. I knew who it was. A quick flash of the beggar, Cat Neely, her curly hair covering most of her face. And Cat's mother, who sat in their yard, teeth gone, cheeks sunken, with no money to pay the rent.

        "Don't think about it," Sean said, his hand on my shoulder, his face sad. "There's nothing can be done."

        "Coins," I said. "If only someone—" I broke off. I knew it myself. No one in the glen had an extra penny. Not Sean's family. Not mine. My older sister Maggie and Sean's brother Francey were saving every bit they could to get married. But even that would take years.

        The dulse on my tongue tasted bitter now. Cunningham, the English lord, owned all our land, all our houses; he could put any of us out if he wanted. And now it would be Cat and her mother.

        There was someone with a coin, I knew that.

        Anna Donnelly.

        Sean and I were afraid of her. He had said that one of the sidhe might live under her table. I shuddered, thinking of those beings from the other world. Tangles of gray hair, bony fingers pointing, crouched in the darkness. Anna had her magic, too. She could heal up a wen on the finger, or straighten a bone with her weeds, but only when she wanted to.

        And she hadn't saved my mam the day my little brother, Patch, was born.

        That Anna Donnelly had a coin.        

        And I was the only one that knew about it.

        I thought of the day I had stopped near her house. The thatch on her roof was old and plants grew green over the top. And there was Anna outside, teetering on a stool, her white hair in wisps around the edge of her cap. She had peered over her shoulder, her face as wrinkled as last year's potatoes, then held something up before she shoved it deep into the thatch.

        I had seen the glint of it, the shine.

        The coin.        

        And in my mind now: I could save Cat Neely and her mother. If only Anna would give me that coin.

        Suddenly my mouth was dry.

        I turned to Sean. "Thank you for the dulse," I said, and left him there, mouth open, as I flew down the path away from the cliff.                 

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Nory Ryan's Song 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was about the Irish Potatoe Famine and a girl whom lived during it. This girl, NOry Ryan, learns about friendship, love, and life. After her sister leaves for America it is up to Nory Ryan to hold the family together.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nory Ryan is content with her life, waiting for her Da to come back with money from his fishing expeditions, dreaming about the day that they'll all move to Brooklyn, New York, America and be free from hunger and walk on streets paved with diamonds. She helps take care of her younger brother and they are content, if a bit hungry. Then comes the day that she realizes that the potato crops are black with rot. Her oldest sister announces that she's leaving to Brooklyn with her fiancee and now Nory is responsible for the family. How will they survive with no food until Da comes home with the fishing money? And what happens if the British landlords come demanding the rent? A bittersweet story about the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. I learned a lot I didn't know, especially about the treatment of the Irish by the British. The narrator was pleasant to listen to and it was a nice touch that the author's note was read by the author.
SadieReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Nory Ryan's Song" is a touching tale of a young Irish girl's struggle during the potato famine of 1845. Facing financial hardship even before the start of the famine, Nory's family slowly starts to pull apart. Her mother died giving birth to Nory's three-year-old brother, Patch, and her father is off in Gallway working as a fisherman in order to support the family. Hoping to find a better life and make one less burden for the Ryan family, Nory's oldest sister, Maggie, marries her fiance and moves to Brooklyn, New York, leaving Nory with Granda, Celia, and Patch. As neighbors are evicted by their English landlord and more time passes without word from her father, twelve-year-old Nory dreams of the family following Maggie to New York where the streets are paved with diamonds.Then the famine hits, destroying the potatoes, leaving the country largely without food and with no crop to harvest and sell. Struggling to find food and work, the Ryans are torn apart again when Granda and Celia leave, hoping to find Nory's father on the road to Gallway. Nory and Patch stay with Anna Donnelly until the Mallons come with an extra ticket to America for Nory. Instead, Nory sends Patch with Mallons, leaving her without any family at all. Will she ever reunite with them? Will she stay in Ireland through the famine or join Maggie and Patch in America?I enjoyed reading this book, though I can see where children might find it a little slow. There isn't much action because the focus is on the family and the choices that must be made. I think that the author, Patricia Reilly Giff, did a great job portraying the setting in both place and time. She included Irish Gaelic words in the characters' speech and provided a translation and pronunciation glossary at the beginning of the book. Having the story from Nory's perspective also authenticated the struggle caused by the times. This story is a must read for all persons curious about or interested in the Irish Potato Famine and the subsequent emigration to America.Appropriate for grades 4-6. If you enjoyed this novel, Nory's story continues in "Maggie's Door".
mrn945 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This narrative was written more for pre-teens than adults, however I found it quite interesting. The language is simply, but that does not detract from the impact of the words. The novel is written from the perspective of a young girl at the beginning of the Irish Famine, just before the blight begins to affect the potatoes. You see her struggling to take care of her family in the place of her mother - who died in childbirth - and her father who is off trying to earn them money. You see her trying to find food to feed her siblings, to find money to pay the Englishman for the rent. It's heartbreaking reading about their struggles, particularly when you know about all the people who die later in the famine, and when you realize that the whole situation was completely preventable. The novel is quite short, and it ends before her family sets out for America, which happens in the sequel. Further, it was written in the style of The Giver, another classic youth book. As I adore The Giver (recently read - review pending!), I cannot give a higher recommendation than that. If someone is looking for a quick read, or some basic information on the Irish Famine, I would certainly recommend this book.
jepeters333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Takes place in Ireland about 1850 - a family loses everything and decides to leave.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nory Ryan's Song is the first in a trilogy about an Irish family leaving Ireland for Brooklyn, New York amid the catastrophe of the potato famine. Nory Ryan and her family live in an Irish glen by the sea. There they are oppressed by an English landlord who is always seaching for the simplest excuse to evict his tenants to make way for grazing sheep, a far more profitable venture than collecting rent from struggling Irish families who are barely scraping by on the income from their potato fields.When, in 1845, the potato crop succombs to a blight that rots the potatoes before they can be harvested, it doesn't take long for the landlord to come collecting the rent and finding money wanting, to begin evicting families who have nowhere to go. As food becomes scarcer and their neighbors begin to starve, Nory and her friend Sean Red Mallon know that there is one hope for them: to follow their older siblings to Brooklyn in America and a better life.Nory Ryan's Song is great historical fiction for younger readers that will introduce them to a crushing time in Irish history and opens a window into the Irish immigrant experience. Even as an adult, I really appreciated this tale of strength in suffering at a time when the only way to save yourself was to plunge into the unknown with only hope to sustain you. The quickness with which Nory and her family as well as her neighbors go from ekeing out a living to starving to death was a revelation even to me. The cruelty of English landlords and their reasons for it was unbelievably despicable.Nory is a great narrator and perfect glimpse into this time when, even as a child, you had to be strong and self-sacrificing to survive. Her love for her home and her neighbors are evident, but so are her hopes and dreams for an almost mythical better future in an America where, people say, the streets are paved with diamonds. Nory's life and the difficult choices she must make are a heartrending and convincing, as well as accurate, picture of the immigrant experience.Nory Ryan's Song is a sad but also so hopeful story. I'm totally in love with Nory, and I know, despite my determination to stop buying books with such reckless abandon, that its sequel, Maggie's Door, is in my future. I can't wait to see what the journey to America has in store for the captivating Irish characters Giff has created to fill in the gaps in the story of her own family's origins.
mazda502001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written childrens book about the Irish Potato Famine. Ages 8-12.Back Cover Blurb:' Three steps, then I eased the door open. Outside it was bright as day. The moon was up, full and white, throwing sharp shadows away from me. I heard thunder somewhere, though, and the air was damp and heavy.Nighttime belonged to the sidhr, so I was afraid to take more than a few steps, but it was far enough. The potato stalks leaned against each other, limp and wet, the leaves shapeless and drifting.I pulled up the edge of my petticoat to cover my nose and backed against the wall of the house. My throat felt thick. In my mind was Granny Mallon's voice, 'Without potatoes we will starve to death.' '
ERMSMediaCenter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When a terrible blight attacks Ireland's potato crop in 1845, twelve-year-old Nory Ryan's courage and ingenuity help her family and neighbors survive.
Hamburgerclan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one depressing book. It's the tale of a girl, Nory Ryan, who suffers through An Gorta Mór--the Great Hunger--of 1845-1852. The Ryans, like their neighbors, are poor and in debt to their English landlord, Lord Cunningham. Life is hard as they struggle to make ends meet. When disease decimates everyone's potato crops, it becomes unbearable. The story is rife with sorrow and disappointment, as if the author is kicking the characters when they're down. But then, a famine is hardly a time of joy and contentment. Depressing as this book is, I would still have to tell you to check it out, if for no other reason than it will truly give you a feeling of what life was like for the folks back then.--J.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had to read it fir school and wish i had read it sooner. It was that kind of book u want to keep reading over and over. Hope to read the sequal soon. (Maggie's Door)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this at school and i hate it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutly amazing i loved it soomuch couldent put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book it was great! It had different emotions! Loved !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It had so many emotions, u always wanted 2 read more! Must read! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My heritage is Irish and this book was just awesome.
Sophia Ridley More than 1 year ago
Iit was sad but i felt happy for her at the end. Plus i cried at one part it was good.Now i have to write a report
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sarah McNelis More than 1 year ago
A great read would say a good buy. If you are skittish dont read at night. Otherwise a good natured story.I hope you enjoy it as much as i did. ;) yay
hilary pryde More than 1 year ago
it was an interesting book and I actually found it good but not as exciting as I would have liked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago