The Making of Mollie
It’s spring 1912, and 14-year-old Mollie Carberry lives in Drumcondra with her loving but distracted parents, her older sister Phyllis, her spoiled older brother Harry and her saintly little sister Julia. Mollie’s convinced that her life is boring - until she discovers that Phyllis is a secret suffragette. After attending a suffrage meeting, Mollie wants to do something for the movement too – and she soon convinces her best friend Nora to join her. At last, they have some excitement in their lives!
While some of their classmates approve of their new cause, others can’t see the point. Their timid schoolfriend Stella worries that Mollie and Nora are going to get into trouble. And their classmate Grace, who also happens to be Nora’s cousin, disapproves of anybody who steps out of line. Despite this general apathy, as the weeks go by, Mollie and Nora become even more determined to do something for the cause. Even though nobody in the cause seems to particularly want their help.
The Making of Mollie has been shortlisted in the Specsavers Children’s Book of the Year Seniors. See the shortlist and vote here.
Mollie and her best friend Nora are 14 years old. Mollie thinks her life is boring, with her sophisticated older sister, horrible older brother, and “saintly” younger sister, until she finds out that 18-year-old Phyllis is a suffragette. Mollie and Nora set out to find out about the movement, but secretly because this is in Dublin in 1912, when such things are frowned upon by many.
The book sets out to teach, in an engaging way, readers about the fight for suffrage in early nineteenth-century Ireland, when the country was already divided on Home Rule. It does this quite successfully, along with historical details about school life and home life for the Irish middle classes.
I loved Mollie – she is rebellious but not unruly; she is thoughtful and funny. I liked the (unintentional, from the protagonist’s point of view) humorous asides, the sibling squabbling and the interactions between schoolmates. I liked Maggie, the family’s loyal but wary general-servant, and her feminist sister Jenny. I liked the way Aunt Josephine was weaved into the story, and Mollie’s observations of her.
Although the book explained what the suffragette movement was, readers – to get the most out of the book – would need to understand what Home Rule was, and who the main people involved in that were, along with a few other historical references that might go unnoticed or not be understood by a young audience. More, unobtrusive, explanation would have been good.
I liked the way small historical details were included in the story without being obvious. School life was well depicted, although there was a preponderance of Latin for homework. I was a bit confused about two of the teachers having the title Professor. Were they university professors (extremely unlikely) or is this a title within the Catholic church? I am assuming these teachers are seminary professors, but would they have the title Professor, rather than Sister? It would have been nice to have had this explained – maybe in a note or glossary at the back of the book. (I’m not a Catholic and I wasn’t taught by nuns, so I am clueless here, and an internet search didn’t help.)
I don’t like the format of the book. It is written as a series of letters – but there are only eight of them in a book about 60,000 words long. The longest letter is over, I estimate, 15,000 words. Letter-writing was undoubtedly more of an art in 1912 than it is now, but for a 14-year-old, a 15,000 word letter is a tad unrealistic – it’s pretty unrealistic for anyone.
Overall, it is a story that I think 11–14 year olds will enjoy, although some may find it a little sluggish.
Editorial Input & Design
The book has clearly been well edited. I would have made a few suggestions. First, I don’t think the letter format works: the letters are nearly all unrealistically long, conversations are quoted verbatim, and some points are shoe-horned in by the ‘as you know’ device. If you are writing a letter, you don’t say “I said crossly”; you would say “I was cross”; there are a few turns of phrase like this that don’t sit well in a letter. I think the book would have worked well as a third person story – in which it would have been acceptable to explain what, for example, Home Rule was, and who Wolf Tone was. It could also work as a first-person account (the protagonist talking to the reader), in which explanations could, with some skill, be part of the narration. If the letter format is kept, I would have suggested more and shorter letters. Also, the recipient of the letters could be a pen pal in England who Mollie has never met – this would give opportunities and excuses for explanations that would help the reader.
I think I would have suggested not including the sub-story of the Peter Fitzgerald novel that Mollie’s father was writing.
There is a small amount of inconsistency – with style, not the story – e.g. use of capital letters, the way the letters are signed off. There are a few other copy editing and proofreading misses, e.g. the use of the word “loo” once, a missing “un” at the beginning of a word, a wrong apostrophe.
The book uses the unusual style of putting full stops after contractions: “Mrs.”, “Mr.”. I’m not sure why as it doesn’t appear to be an O’Brien house style. It could be argued that it is because this is what Mollie would write in her letters, but I’m fairly sure that she would also use double quote marks instead of single, so that doesn’t wash. Probably no one bar me will be irritated by this.
Cover: I like the front very much. I like the style of drawing and the muted colours. I’m not sure the back view of Mollie looks like a 1912 schoolgirl – the skirt looks as though it is from a later era and I think she would be wearing black stockings. Admittedly my knowledge of fashion – at any era – is minimal.
Internal design: Crisp and neat.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Excellent for a school book club. There would be plenty to discuss, from the differences in school and home life to now, and why the suffragettes had to fight for the vote for women. It would have been nice to have a little more about the poorer classes, as children of 14 would have been unlikely to have even been at school – an adult-led discussion could bring this up. There is a little about men with no property not being able to vote, and this could also be used in discussion of class, alongside the conversation between Maggie, Jenny and Mollie about jobs that women of different classes could aspire to.
What others are saying: An Amazon UK reader gives it 5 stars (1 reviewer); Amazon US – no reviewers; Goodreads readers give it 4.5 stars (2 ratings).
Not many yet. Let me know of links and I will add them. There are a few extracts on the publisher's website.
Buy & Author
Published by O’Brien Press and available from their website
Kenny’s, Galway, Ireland (€8.31, worldwide free shipping)
hive.co.uk (paperback £6.65; ePub £4.79)
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Disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of the book for review. (Thank you!)