Best known for historical young adult fiction, such as A Gathering Light and Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly also writes smashing adult novels, which deserve greater attention. The Tea Rose, in particular, is a fantastic book.
An epic historical narrative, much like sprawling classics such as Gone with the Wind, The Tea Rose features a time-honored tale of star-crossed romances, self-made fortunes, adventurous getaways, and ambitious dreams, steeped in rich prose and flavored with utterly lovable characters who continue to command your attention on page 544.
Set in late nineteenth-century England and New York, The Tea Rose relates the life of Fiona Finnegan, an ebullient tea factory girl from Whitechapel, who aspires to open her own grocery shop with her childhood friend and true love Joe Bristow. Class tensions and the chaos sparked by Jack the Ripper’s terrifying campaign through town, however, send Fiona’s dreams out the window. Soon on the run for her life with her younger brother in tow, Fiona lands in New York City.
With gumption, luck, and a bit of elbow grease, Fiona sets out to build a shop on her own, with the help of Nick, her gay artist best friend, and Michael, her haunted uncle. Fiona and Joe continue to pass each other like ships on a foggy night throughout The Tea Rose, providing continuous romantic intrigue. A long struggle for vengeance, the instabilities of entrepreneurialism, and the shadow of an unsavory past maintain the drama and continue to pose trials for the heroine throughout The Tea Rose.
As a reader, you cannot help but become engrossed in Fiona’s tribulations. A romantic girl with vision, moxie, and a certain rough-and-tumble sense of justice and loyalty, her struggles ring true with modern women, even if her character seems a touch avant guarde to be historically accurate.
Highly atmospheric descriptions and dialogues offset this foible. Donnelly’s dual passion for history and English is apparent in the consideration for detail she takes in setting the stage for her main characters and how she imagines their interactions. Perhaps one of Donnelly’s most impressive feats is her ability to write genuine accents and historical vocabulary into her dialogues so that they ring true to even the expert reader.
The tea connection made this book all the more salient for me–this is a must read for anyone who adores tea.
I cannot say enough to recommend this novel, whose every page I savored to the last.