Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly


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The book's description from the author's website:

East London, 1888 - a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night. Where shining hopes meet the darkest truths.

Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, a bright, defiant young woman dares to dream of a life beyond tumbledown wharves, gaslit alleys, and the grim and crumbling dwellings of the poor.

Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger's son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.

But Fiona's plans are shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man force her to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit – and the ghosts of her past – propel her rise from a modest West Side shop front to the top of Manhattan's tea trade.

Fiona's old ghosts do not rest quietly, however, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future.
This was such a great book! I was entranced by Fiona's story, her sheer will to survive despite everything bad that happened, and a lot happened, and especially by her and Joe's love for each other, the strength of their bond that just couldn't be broken. I was very happy that Ms. Donnelly didn't make a Mary Sue out of Fiona. Despite her great qualities, the fact that she managed to charm almost everyone who came in contact with her, Fiona had a little bit of a mean streak in her, which made her all the more realistic, considering that she grew up in a poor neighborhood, had to fend and fight tooth and nail for herself and her family. I would like to make a small reference here to Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo. Even though I'm by no means comparing one to the other, Fiona was the Countess of Whitechapel, with her determination to get the revenge on people who ruined her life and the very soul of hers. 'There will be blood' is pretty much what kept popping up in my mind throughout the story. And I was cheering Fiona on all the way through. Out with 'turning the other cheek' and in with sharpening the claws and going for the jugular. We don't have enough of these kinds of characters, if you ask me.

There really isn't anything criticism that I can offer here. I simply loved every page of The Tea Rose. I loved the good people, even the ones who strayed and made mistakes, whom I thought I would hate; I hated the bad ones and wanted to see them punished almost as much as Fiona did. I'll tell you one thing, there were no 'in-betweeners'. It doesn't mean the characters were either black or white, most of them were gray like the November sky at one point or another, especially the decent ones. But in the end, what mattered was in their hearts, in their very nature and it was truly either good or bad to the bone.

I've seen it mentioned in a few other reviews that Ms. Donnelly wrote a soap opera. It was mostly meant as a criticism, but I'm on the side of readers like Misfit *nod*, who say that yes, The Tea Rose does read like a soap opera, but it's one of the best quality. Because there really isn't anything wrong with soap operas of the yesteryear that made this whole 'genre' of TV programs wildly successful, is there? Millions of people watch them to this day, whereas other shows come and go. Yes, some events in Fiona's life may seem far fetched but they're really not all that impossible. She had the guts, the determination and the brains. Most importantly, she had a dream that she would not let go of. I know there are and always have been women like her all over the world and throughout the history. I must also say, it's refreshing to read about a female character that makes me proud and glad we belong to the same species, in lieu of recent 'wimpy' and submissive girls who only live for a man (the one-hundred-times regurgitated Twilight and infamous Bella plus stacks and stacks of YA drivel with doe-eyed-i-can't-live-without-him silly little girls) or live for a man only and for his abusive ways and whose main goal in life is to be objectified by the very man they love (here's to you! Fifty Shades of Grey and your author counting her pounds and laughing).

Anyway, I might have gone on a little rant there but The Tea Rose really was refreshing to me and despite the tears I've shed (there will be many moments when your heart just breaks), I finished this book and closed it with a smile on my face and a contented sigh that not all is lost in the reading world yet.
FTC: I bought The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly.