The Year We Sailed the Sun

Written by Theresa Nelson
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In The Year We Sailed the Sun, Theresa Nelson tells the story of Julia Delaney, an orphaned girl who has spent her earliest years in the Kerry Patch, an Irish section of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1911. The Kerry Patch is filled with gang-related violence and is run by Mr. Egan, whose power seems unimpeachable. When their grandmother, with whom they’d been living, dies, the children are sent to Aunt Gert, who finds them too much to handle. So, Julia, along with her older sister, Mary, and her brother, Bill, are taken to the House of Mercy, an orphanage run by nuns. There, the children are separated, with Bill going to a job. Later, Mary also takes a job away from the orphanage, leaving Julia to fend for herself. For a nine-year-old girl, Julia manages to get into as much trouble as another Missouri fictional character, Huck Finn.

Julia begins her relationship with the nuns by biting one when they first come to take her away. And, though Julia presents a challenge, the nuns prove more than capable of dealing with her. Thanks to their steady guidance and the unwavering love of Miss Cora Downey, who teaches piano to the children, Julia at last finds a real home and love.

This is a charming, warm-hearted story. Interestingly, there is truth to it. Based on the experiences of Julia Catherine Kraemer Cooney, the author’s mother-in-law, this tale is the fictionalized story of her life. The Irish culture and dialogue are spot-on. A joy to read.