Not that long ago, I shied away from reading historical fiction. The genre just didn't appeal to me and I often said that I only like to read books set in the present. This all changed after I devoured two absolutely wonderful novels by Canadian author, Jennifer Robson. My love for the genre was born and I was very happy when Penguin Random House Canada offered me a review copy of Miss Emily. Add in that it was written by an Irish author and one of the main characters is a young Irish girl, new to America, I knew that I would love this book.
Miss Emily is an imagined account of the young adult life of famous American poet, Emily Dickinson. The Dickinson family, a somewhat eclectic bunch, hire 18-year-old Ada Concannon to work in their house as a cook and maid. The novel is told from both Emily's and Ada's perspectives, alternating voices with each chapter. The voice of Emily is prim and proper as you would expect from a young woman who loves words and is born into a highly-esteemed family, while Ada's voice is a bit more down-to-earth and playful. I love novels written this way.
Despite their class differences, Emily and Ada develop a lovely friendship that is so endearing. They share a love of baking and also discover that they share a birthday. The development of this friendship is so delightful that I wanted to read more and I didn't want their story to end.
When crisis falls upon Ada, Emily, who has become a recluse, must face her own fears to help her dear friend. Their friendship is tested and Emily comes to her friend's aid, against her family's wishes. The subject matter of the crisis may be difficult for some, but I felt it was put forth in a respectful and mature manner and was not dwelled upon.
For anyone who loves historical fiction, I recommend picking up Miss Emily for a great summer read. For those new to the genre, this book would be a great introduction. It is not too long, moves at a good pace and has well-developed characters. Having said that, the only fault I could find with this book was that it was not long enough! I look forward to reading more of Nuala O'Connor's books soon.