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February 5, 2022

The Next Ship Home: A Novel of Ellis Island by Heather Webb ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

Ellis Island, 1902: Two women band together to hold America to its promise: "Give me your tired, your poor...your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."

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The Next Ship Home
February 2022; Sourcebooks Landmark; 978-1728258256
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); historical fiction

This wonderful new book of historical fiction by Heather Webb is a look at Ellis Island in 1902.  At this time there were as many as 5,000 people per day coming to America on ships from other countries who wanted to start a new life here.  They had to be processed, medically checked and they needed to have a sponsor before they were accepted. These people who were yearning for freedom had come in steerage from their countries and arrived at Ellis Island hungry and sick, poorly clothed, and confused with the process.    When they arrived at Ellis Island it took several hours to stand in line to be processed and medically cleared.  Most didn't speak English and needed an interpreter.  There was also a lot of corruption at Ellis Island from the people who were working there who took bribes and harassed the immigrants.

Francesca and her sister Maria escaped Sicily to get away from their abusive father.  Marie has been sick most of the trip and Francesca worries that her sister may not get approval to stay in the United States and they will both be sent back to Sicily. She speaks minimal English and is helped by an interpreter, Alma on her first day working on Ellis Island.  As she feared, Maria was not healthy enough to pass the medical assessment so she was sent to the hospital.  Plus Francesca didn't have a sponsor so it began to look like they may be sent back to Sicily.  Alma takes a personal interest in these two women and does what she can to help them.

Alma lives in the German section of NYC and helps her parents and family with their restaurant.  She is content to help her family and take care of her sisters but her step-father has decided that she's not really helping the family plus she's too ugly for anyone to want to marry her so he gets her a job at Ellis Island as a matron.  Their main jobs are helping the doctors, working with registration, and basically doing everything that no one else wants to do.   When they find out that she can speak several languages, she also gets called when an interpreter is needed.  After being taught that anyone but Germans are dirty and lazy and less than....she quickly learns that they are all people just like her looking for a better life.

Alma becomes interested in Francesca's life and works to keep her from being deported.  Once Francesca finds a job, the two women become friends despite their differences.  When Alma has to make some decisions about reporting corruption at Ellis Island, she relies on help from Francesca.  Both of them work to have a better life and to be able to make their own decisions about their future.

It's apparent that the author has done considerable research into Ellis Island and the way the immigrants were treated.  She created two wonderful, real characters in Francesca and Alma and I quickly cared about both women and them being successful in life despite continued problems. 
I was especially interested in this book because many of my ancestors came through Ellis Island when they immigrated from Ireland in the mid-1800s.  We have family stories on how they were treated in New York when they started looking for work but I've never read much about Ellis Island and this book made me sympathize not just with my great-grandparents but also for the people who arrived in the United States from all over the world.

Buy The Next Ship Home at Amazon 

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook.

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