STARRED REVIEW
March 24, 2015

Family history inspires a young orphan’s tale

By Theresa Nelson
Review by

The fact that the world’s not fair is a hard concept for children to learn, but 11-year-old Julia Delaney (based on the author’s mother-in-law, also named Julia) knows this lesson all too well. She's growing up in St. Louis’ tough Irish neighborhood of Kerry Patch in the winter of 1911, one of the coldest winters in Missouri's history.

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The fact that the world’s not fair is a hard concept for children to learn, but 11-year-old Julia Delaney (based on the author’s mother-in-law, also named Julia) knows this lesson all too well. She's growing up in St. Louis’ tough Irish neighborhood of Kerry Patch in the winter of 1911, one of the coldest winters in Missouri's history. When her grandmother, and last blood relative, dies, she is sent to live at the House of Mercy, an “Industrial School and Girls’ Home” run by strict nuns, and is eventually separated from her older brother and sister.

Julia soon finds herself scheming of ways to flee the orphanage, but running away isn’t easy. There are gang wars right outside the orphanage doors, and she needs to protect her wounded brother from the infamous Egan’s Rats and even from their organized crime boss, Thomas Egan (who may also have been responsible for their father’s murder). Egan and his Rats are just some of the historical details that enliven Julia’s sometimes-harrowing story.

Used to relying on herself for survival, Julia learns to lean on others, from her mute dormmate who clearly knows more than she can say; to the maiden piano teacher who takes a liking to the girl’s defiant spirit; to the nuns whose sternness masks their fierce protection. Readers will cheer on Julia to her hopeful ending.

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The Year We Sailed the Sun

The Year We Sailed the Sun

By Theresa Nelson
Richard Jackson/Atheneum
ISBN 9780689858277

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