The Tea Rose

Written by Jennifer Donnelly
Review by Helene Williams

Fiona Finnegan loves Joe Bristow, and he loves her. For years, they’ve planned their future: their own shop, and an escape from the hand-to-mouth existence their families have always known, as costermongers and tea warehouse workers in the Whitechapel area of London. They are poor, but happy, and are sure their hard work will pay off. Just when her dreams of life and love seem to be coming true, Fiona’s world crumbles, when her father dies and Joe is snatched from her by a scheming society girl. Distraught, Fiona sails to America, to start over and to exact revenge on those who have injured her and her family. Donnelly describes turn-of-the-century New York City with the same authenticity as she did London, with vivid scenes of wide residential avenues and narrow, crowded industrial areas.

Fiona’s achievements of independence and vengeance are not gained without cost, however, and the main victim of her success is the credibility of the story itself. Donnelly relies heavily on coincidence to move the narrative, and having Fiona’s life involve Jack the Ripper, murderous tea house thugs, several revolutionary ideas in the tea industry of the time, and the amassing of a fortune that involves further coincidence strains the believability of the narrative. The characters are strong and well-drawn, and would be able to achieve much on their own without the author’s very-visible string-pulling. Donnelly holds promise as a historical novelist, and one hopes to see that potential fulfilled in future tales.