This novel is set against the backdrop of an English estate, where a mysterious servant called Paddy conceals her true identity and gender to bury the dangerous secrets of her recent, tragic past. As she sets to work in the kitchens, she bonds with Mr. Serle, the chief cook, who is also on a path of discovering how the hardships of the past affect the views one holds towards the world.
The roads they each have traveled to arrive and work in the same kitchen is an important one, holding many clues about the people they were and have become. Mina/Paddy is fifteen and almost ignorantly Irish-Catholic, the victim of Ireland’s famine; Mr. Serle, an Italian Jew, is himself the casualty of Christian hatred and more. Ceely handles this with arresting, salient prose. Tension springs up between Mina and Mr. Serle because of their different cultures, and what is laudable about Mina is how credibly this is explored. Practices are explained, words exchanged and pondered over, yet for the young Mina things don’t always make sense. Still, she keeps her mind open for these fresh explorations from her mentor.
Mina is a novel set during the Irish famine, yet it carries with it many notions and ideals we could all learn from in the present day. It makes for an exciting, enjoyable read.