Greener Grass by Caroline Pignat is on the best YA fiction list by CBC and I can see why. It is the story of one girl’s experience of living through the Irish potato famine (The Great Famine). Pignat tells the story of Kit, a young Irish girl with spunk. And so it goes.
Pignat’s novel won the Governor General’s award in 2009 and I can see why. Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It was a late night and a rough morning! Through the determination of Kit, Pignat is able to show the hardships and devastation for a lot of Irish people brought on by blights of potato crops and the cruel and heartless English landlords. In the novel, neighbours die at Public Works programs, they die in the Work House, they die from starvation, they die from being burned in their homes by landlords. It is no wonder that so many came across to North America. They didn’t have money, food, or homes. And they didn’t have the support of those with power and the ability to help them.
Through the teenager eyes of Kit we are able to see the inequality of a corrupt system. Throughout the novel she struggles with her hatred, and even ends up in prison at one point and then hunted by the landlord’s men for the actions she tries to commit because of her hatred. Yet that righteous anger was necessary for change. Her anger kept her alive and kept her looking for ways to either improve or else to escape their miserable living as tenants of an English Lord. The sight of men waiting beside the Public Works site for men to die so that the waiting men could take over and earn some money, the sight of hundreds of cottages and homes burned to the ground, and the sight of people begging to get into the work houses shows the desperation and the pain of what some Irish had to live through. It was a harsh reality for Kit and her family, and was hard to imagine as a reader, and I cannot imagine actually living through these horrors.
I have to say that Kit was a firecracker and I enjoyed her view of the world. She demanded justice, she wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and she saved her family in the end, even though it meant she might never see them again. My favourite part of the novel is when Kit walks into the ancient forest to clear her mind. While sitting on an ancient stone, she is able to find peace and calm through tracing a labyrinth: “My fingers outlined the ancient pattern etched in the stone beneath me, following the endless spiral as it looped its way through three great whorls, circling back upon itself. I’d always wondered about who’d carved this all those centuries ago” (Pg 124).
As a work of young adult fiction, this was a great read. The narration was smooth, believable, and you know that when a person is telling their own story, they can’t die (well, unless you look at Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel). And the best part? There’s a sequel!! Wild Geese, the story of Kit in Canada.
“So let me tell of of a time, not your time, but mine. I am Kathleen Mary Margaret Byrne. This is my story. And so it goes.” (Caroline Pignat)
“There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)