Title: The Tea Rose
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: Classic Historical Fiction/ Thriller/ Romance/ Mystery
Source: Purchased 10+ Years Ago
My favourite quote; ‘At a glance, she seemed so slight and fragile, nothing but a slip of a girl standing at the river’s edge, dragging her hem in the mud. But eyes that lingered upon her as Joe’s did could see the force of her ambition in her every expression, her every gesture, from the thrust of her chin to her rough worker’s hands, now clenched into fists as if someone had challenged her.’
Strong willed tea worker, Fiona Finnegan, has grown up with her loving family in the poverty-stricken Whitechapel, London in the 1880’s, home to destitute and suffering and the haunting Jack the Ripper killer stalking the streets. Nothing will stop her dream of owning her own shop with her childhood next-door romance, Joe Bristow, and she will do anything to hold on to it. That is, until her life is shattered into pieces. Within a few shorts months she finds her life in danger and almost everything and everyone she’s ever loved taken from her. Heart heavy with grief and with only her younger brother Seamie left to love and care for, she flees the horrors of London and travels to New York to find her uncle, with the help of a new friend Nicholas.
‘Despite all of it’s struggles, there had always been something to look forward too. But now her love of life and the hope with which she greeted her future were gone. Now she lived in a drab netherworld, adrift in limbo. Unable to walk away from life, but unable to engage in it. She merely endured.’
This book is everything I look for in a novel. It has a fantastic storyline, great well written characters, it uses real places with a realistic purpose to set the scene brilliantly, as well as a great striking portrayal of London’s famous killer added into the mix. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling and it plays with the heart of the reader. I’ve read this book so many times and it still makes me laugh and cry and I still struggle to put it down.
Donnelly captures the true representation of Whitechapel’s limitations at its core, including the terrifying Jack the Ripper, who lurks in the shadows at night looking for his next victim. You can really put yourself into the scene living in poverty and destitution, as well as experiencing the hope and determination to follow your aspirations for something greater.
“The day you stop dreaming you might as well take yourself down to the undertaker’s, for you’re as good as dead.”
Fiona is a brilliant protagonist. She’s young and full of dreams even in her situation and common low status, but it doesn’t let it change her and her feelings towards the people around her. Even when she loses everything, she’s not one to give up easily and fights to continue pushing through life and it’s suffering in order to take care of her little brother. I adore her and her sweet disposition, from the little things like taking a trip into the streets of upper London for the first time and being mesmerised by everything in sight, right up to her passion in creating her own tea rose cafe in New York City. She’s lost so much but you can feel the strength she gets from her new friends and how grateful she to be alive and driven with purpose, even with the haunting memories of London as a constant reminder. It’s endearing, she is sure to capture your heart.
Nicholas is definitely my favourite character in the story. He keeps his burdens close in order to live life to the fullest, even with his heavy secrets, it doesn’t stop him for enjoying the comforts of life or living his dream as an artist dealer with a great sense of humor. He’s a lonely isolated being, but he feels drawn to Fiona and can’t help but want to take care of his new friend, they share such a wonderful connection you can’t help but cherish. He’s passionate and honest with his opinions and you can see his admiration for Fee which only makes you adore him all the more.
“What’s going on?” Nick ask groggily. He’d stumbled out from the bedroom and was knotting the belt on his silk dressing gown. “I heard voices. I thought I was dreaming.” He blinked at the sea of roses before him. “My word, look at all the flowers! Did somebody die?” he asked, alarmed. He put his hand over his heart and checked for a beat. “Good God! I hope it wasn’t me!”
Honestly, all of the characters in the story are brilliantly written, each with their own compelling backstory that defines their identity and purpose. Donnelly takes the time to build up each one perfectly, no matter how little their role is in Fiona’s life. Fiona’s family are loving and will always have a smile on their face even when they don’t have enough money for food on the table, we know all of Jack the Ripper’s secrets, his dark influence and passionate hatred, we can even forgive Joe and his desire to become something better and losing his focus along the way. They all bring something special to the story that wrap it into a lovely bow with an ending so content you won’t even feel the need to pick up the next part of the trilogy – honestly, I haven’t and don’t plan too.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It made my favourites shelf years ago and will forever remain. The story is completely captivating, although be prepared as it is a long book!
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 bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, 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 life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan’s tea trade. But Fiona’s old ghosts do not rest quietly, 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.