By: Jacqueline Sheehan
Publication Date: June 2009
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: January 2, 2010
Having recently read Jacqueline Sheehan's Lost and Found, I was excited to receive a copy of her newest novel, Now and Then. Would it live up to expectations? If trying to fit some reading time into a very busy schedule and finishing the almost 400 page book in two short nights is any hint, I'd say, yes. Now and Then grabbed me quickly and wouldn't let go until I'd finish the last page.
Anna O'Shea is a woman whose life is falling apart. After three miscarriages, her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Desparately wanting to get her life back together, Anna is thrown another curve when she gets a phone call telling her that her brother, Patrick, has been in a serious car accident. Rushing to the hospital, she learns that Patrick had been on his way to pick up his delinquent son from jail. Anna is now given that task and must pick up 16-year-old Joseph. Deciding it's too late to go to the hospital once she's picked up the young man, she takes Joseph to her house for the night. After settling in to a restless sleep, Anna is awakened late at night by Joseph rummaging through her possessions.
Anna is startled to see Joseph holding a small piece of fabric that had come from her suitcase. Annoyed that he would go through her things, Anna grabs for the cloth. However, as soon as she touches it, Anna and Joseph are transported back in time to Ireland in 1844.
Unfortunately for the pair, they do not arrive together, nor do they arrive in tip-top shape. Dazed and confused, Anna is rescued by a kindly Irish couple, while Joseph finds himself with the caretakers of a stately mansion. The clever teen soon learns that the landowner is a British citizen who has a distaste for anything Irish. Wanting to endear himself to the wealthy landowner, Joseph lies and claims he is a Canadian citizen. Meanwhile, Anna tries her best to settle in to her new life of poverty while also searching for her nephrew.
The story progresses as Anna and Joseph get used to daily life in Ireland in 1844. While Anna struggles to eliminate certain words from her vocubularly (email, cell phone, texting) and never gives up her search for Joseph and a way home, the youngster is thoroughly enjoying his new life. "...it went beyond his wildest expectations. That he had been sucked into a time other than his own caused him little discomfort when balanced with the advantages. He had slipped into a life of privilege as if it had been designed for him." (pg. 92) Joseph becomes a famed wrestler, with Colonel Mitford, the wealthy estate owner, his staunchest supporter. He also falls deeply in love with the daughter of one of the caretakers. A delinquent at home, with little to look forward to, Joseph has risen to great heights in Ireland.
Once Anna and Joseph arrive in Ireland, the author switches between telling Anna's tale and Joseph's. It works quite well as we see the stark differences between what the average Irish citizen, right before the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 had, versus that of the British overseers. I was fascinated and angered at the same time as I read how those of British descent enjoyed great privalege while the Irish couldn't even own a horse of value. If said horse was perceived as being worth more than five pounds, it could be taken away. This is just one example of many in the book. Fortunately, the author doesn't get preachy with these lessons of disparity but rather carefully weaves them into the story so they fit the ebb and flow of the tale quite well. There's also a man who comes into Anna's life, one who at first can't stand the strange woman with the strange accent (Anna has a similiar reaction to him), but can romance be far away?
The cover photo of an Irish Wolfhound may seem a bit misleading to some. While these gentle Irish dogs do play a part in the book, it isn't a major role. If you're expecting a book about Wolfhounds, or dogs in general, this is not that tale. But if you're willing to suspend disbelief for a bit and be transported to the Ireland of yesteryear, I'd suggest picking up a copy of Now and Then and getting lost in the book.
Quill says: A story that talks of love, lost chances, and second chances, all while in the depths of a land and lifestyle long forgotten.