Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Book Review: The Next Ship Home, by Heather Webb

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“Don’t talk to her that way.” Fritz’s voice came low, menacing. “I’m warning you.”

The men glanced at Fritz, surprised, a damper falling over their good humor. Even Robert’s laughter stopped abruptly.

Francesca met Fritz’s eye. He held her gaze an instant, and nodded.

Alma ate hurriedly, suddenly desperate to take her new friend upstairs to hide until they’d all left. When they’d finished, they helped Else and Greta briefly in the kitchen and afterward headed to the bedroom.

Some hours later, the noise in the hall had subsided, and they crept back downstairs to make Francesca’s bed.

Fritz was sitting at a table alone, reading through a stack of papers. An anarchist pamphlet sat on top. Alma bristled. It wasn’t like him to make a poor choice but entirely usual for him to be obstinate about it. She feared a terrible incident would befall him before he’d desert his cause.

Francesca touched Fritz’s forearm lightly. “The men…” she said. “Thank you.”

His bright eyes darkened. “Any friend of my sister’s is a friend of mine, and I look out for my friends.”

Alma has been brought up to see the immigrants as ‘less than’ and notice their differences. What if there are things they have in common too?

Official synopsis:
Book Review: The Next Ship Home, by Heather Webb
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..."

A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn't a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures to ensure she will make it off the island, Alma fights for her dreams of becoming a translator, even as women are denied the chance.

As the two women face the misdeeds of a system known to manipulate and abuse immigrants searching for new hope in America, they form an unlikely friendship—and share a terrible secret—altering their fates and the lives of the immigrants who come after them.

This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to "the land of the free" promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days.

Alma is new at her job on Ellis Island when she is touched by the story of Francesca and her sister Maria. In a job like hers, Alma certainly can’t be helping every single woman who she feels deserves a break, but the stars aligned and Alma truly can’t bear the thought of Francesca and Maria being sent back to Italy. 

Through their growing relationship, Alma learns more about being her own woman, while Francesca puts all her efforts toward fitting in as an American. The systems and treatment of women at the time doesn’t make either of their goals easy.

This was a touching story about how far these women may be willing to go for someone they haven’t known very long. The atmosphere and functioning of the processes on Ellis Island during this time period was interesting and involved history that I mostly knew nothing about. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. It felt like an honest historical fiction about the early 1900s, and the author did a great job of breathing life into the characters.
{click here to purchase}
Becki Bayley is a married Gemini mom of two. Living in the Midwest, her favorite place to read is on her heated mattress pad under a cozy blanket. Check out what she’s reading on her Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.


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