Dorothy Caldwell Minor, aka The Book Whisperer, takes a break from WWII fiction with Heather Webb’s The Next Ship Home.
A little about Dorothy:
“I am an avid reader and also enjoy Indie and foreign movies. I retired from teaching English at Tulsa Community College after teaching as an adjunct first and then twenty-four years as a full-time faculty member. I was also involved in faculty development, planning and facilitating workshops for colleagues. I like technology and using technology to enhance learning. As an adjunct, I started a book club on campus, and it is still going strong thirty-one years later! I also belong to two other book clubs.I’ve included a picture from a Chautauqua Tea at TCC, complete with hat and brooch! I enjoy collecting vintage rhinestone brooches.”
Dorothy’s book club, Circle of Readers:
“We meet twice monthly. The first of the month, we all read a book and discuss it; the second time we meet, we discuss other books we’ve read. We enjoy inviting authors to join us! We have 20 members, and we are located in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. We are currently reading When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann and enjoy reading fiction, historical fiction, memoir, nonfiction, YA.”
Why is Dorothy insistent that you read The Next Ship Home? Read on:
For readers seeking historical fiction unrelated to WWII, The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb will certainly fill the bill. Set in 1902, readers meet Alma Brauer, a German-American, who has a gift for learning languages and a desire to learn and, in fact, a wish to attend college. Alma is 22 and unmarried, living with her mother, stepfather, and siblings, mostly among other German-Americans. Sadly, her mother and stepfather do not support Alma’s desire to learn. In fact, her mother tells her, “It does you no good to have dreams. They leave you dissatisfied with your lot.”
Alma helps with the family’s bierhaus until her stepfather tells he has found her a job at Ellis Island. Of course, what that means is that she will be working two jobs—at Ellis Island and again at home when she leaves work at Ellis Island. While working at Ellis Island, Alma crosses paths with a young Italian immigrant, Francesca Ricci and her sister Maria. Because Alma has learned to speak Italian, she is brought in to help interpret since Francesca’s English is somewhat limited.
Meeting Francesca along with her work with other immigrants from a wide variety of countries opens Alma’s eyes. Until her work at Ellis Island, “Alma had never questioned her parents’ views. In fact, they’d instilled their own unease within her, so she turned to the one thing that helped quell it: she learned their languages, those who had infiltrated their neighborhood and taken their jobs.”
The story evolves into several complicated issues including Alma’s stepfather’s insisting that she marry a man who is a supervisor at Ellis Island, the one who got Alma the job. Alma’s mother tells her, “You’re a burden, Alma. Another mouth to feed.”
Along the way, readers learn more about Alma and her brother Fritz who is an activist trying to get better working conditions for laborers. Francesca also plays an important role in the story. Following Alma in her work at Ellis Island, we learn to appreciate the different cultures that collide there as people flow into the US seeking better lives and freedom. We also discover that corruption and evil lurks in the hallways among some of the supervisors and vendors at Ellis Island.
Heather Webb has done a great deal of research into Ellis Island of 1902. Between chapters, she intersperses newspaper stories from the time about the corruption taking place and the attempts to clear out the wrongdoers.
I found The Next Ship Home, which is a threat to so many of the immigrants if they do not comply with whatever a supervisor insists upon, a compelling read. For book clubs, The Next Ship Home will provide much for discussion: women’s rights (or lack of), education, prejudice, overcoming prejudice, corruption, and opportunities.
Heather Webb has an impressive body of work. In addition to the novels she writes alone, she has teamed up with other authors such as Hazel Gaynor to create captivating stories from various time periods. Heather Webb is part of NovelNetwork which seeks to connect authors and readers. She will Zoom with book clubs.