The Next Ship Home

Written by Heather Webb
Review by Julia C. Fischer

Heather Webb’s latest book, The Next Ship Home, is a novel about Ellis Island in the early 20th century. The story of the immigrant experience in 1902 New York City is told from two perspectives. Francesca is a young Sicilian woman who flees Italy and her abusive father. Tragedy strikes at Ellis Island, but fortunately, Francesca is able to make it to New York City to start her new life. Alma, a second-generation German American, is forced by her stepfather to work at Ellis Island so that she, an unmarried woman, can contribute to the household income. Repelled at first by the crowds of immigrants, Alma quickly becomes compassionate and devoted to social justice issues. With her love of linguistics, Alma yearns to become a translator, a challenging route for a woman at this time. At Ellis Island, Francesca and Alma’s paths cross, and the two young women eventually become friends, helping and learning from each other along the way. With Francesca’s support, Alma tries to expose the abuses happening at Ellis Island.

Today, most visitors to New York City visit Ellis Island, and walking through the rooms of the former immigration inspection station, one learns about the immigrant experience. But missing from their tour are the countless abuses many of these immigrants suffered and the blatant prejudice they faced daily, both there and once they got to New York City and beyond. Webb exposes these injustices, telling this critical side of history that is left off the audio tour of Ellis Island. Webb’s book represents what historical fiction is all about: telling the reader about a neglected but important part of history through an engaging story of memorable and strong female characters.