Book Review: ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ by Hazel Gaynor

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102 years ago, on April 15, 1912, the lives of thousands of people changed forever. Many lives were lost and the few that were saved would never forget the horrors of that night. The RMS Titanic, a ship that was promoted as being unsinkable, sank to the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean claiming the lives of over 1500 people after it struck an iceberg.

Today’s generation will always associate the tragedy of the Titanic with Rose, Jack, and James Cameron, but there is so much more to the story with so many other directions it can go. Hazel Gaynor has created a new piece of historical fiction about the RMS Titanic and its passengers. The Girl Who Came Home, Gaynor’s debut novel, tells us a story about fourteen passengers from Ireland who were off to America with the hopes of creating a new life. These fourteen passengers were based on a real group of passengers from County Mayo, Ireland. Gaynor stays true to the past by including real Marconigram messages in the story and weaves them into her fictitious tale about a survivor and a woman who realizes just how special her great-grandmother is.

Photo Credit: Deasy Photographic
Photo Credit: Deasy Photographic

The Girl Who Came Home tells us the story of the Titanic through the eyes of a passenger, a steward, and the great-granddaughter of a survivor. The main shortcoming with Gaynor’s novel is not unexpected, but is a problem none the less. The story informs us about all fourteen passengers of the group, the friends and family of those passengers, the steward and his family, and the 1982 family members of a survivor. That is a lot for anyone to tackle and it was often that I, as a reader, was confused as to who was who. Fortunately, the matter of who each of the lesser characters are fades into the background as we get to the heart of the story.

Grace Butler is a young woman who was never the same after the death of her father. The day he died, so did her dreams of being a writer. Her great-grandmother, Maggie, is a very keen woman and realizes the sadness in Grace’s eyes at Grace’s birthday party. The connection between those two special women is then solidified when Maggie decides Grace is the one she is going to tell her extremely personal and difficult story to: the story of her arrival in America and her journey on the RMS Titanic. Maggie believes this may just be the story to get Grace writing again and, in her advancing age, she doesn’t want her story to die with her.

As the novel flips back and forth between April 1912 and April 1982, we learn of the journey that Maggie took, the people she met, and the love she had to leave behind. The reader is also taken into Grace’s life and the enormity of what she lost when she lost her father. The story of the Titanic is known but the story of Grace and Maggie is Gaynor’s to tell and ours to delve into. Yes, some of the outcome is predictable but there is a fun twist and turn near the end of the novel that kept me enthralled.

The Girl Who Came Home took me further into the tragedy that was the RMS Titanic than ever before. It takes the reader into the bowels of the ship but, more than that, it takes you into the mindset and reason for the journey for so many. Gaynor does a wonderful job portraying the necessity of going to America for some, the adventure for others, and the bittersweet feelings of immigrating.

Gaynor takes more than a few risks, the first of which is tackling telling a story about the Titanic. At this task, she was utterly successful. The story shines a new light on the tragedy and thrusts the audience into the lives of the passengers outside of the ship. The next risk she takes is utilizing Irish terminology in her novel. Each of her Irish terms are italicized and there is a glossary in the back of the book but the italics are more distracting. The meaning of the words could be inferred and it is obvious the terms are Irish. Lastly, Gaynor took a risk in loosely basing characters on people who did sail on the Titanic. She does them great justice by explaining the basis at the conclusion of the novel which just helps the reader connect even more to the journey she told.

Overall, The Girl Who Came Home, is not just a novel. It’s a journey and it shows us that the path to self-discovery and emotional freedom is not always an easy path but it is one that, once tread upon, brings an inner calm and peace that cannot be attained otherwise. No matter how dark the past, there is a light as long as we are willing to look for it.

Click here to purchase The Girl Who Came Home.