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Becoming Finola    by Suzanne Strempek Shea order for
Becoming Finola
by Suzanne Strempek Shea
Order:  USA  Can
Washington Square, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The seed for this novel was planted in the mind of Suzanne Strempek Shea during a week's visit to Ireland. While browsing a shop, she began arranging books on a shelf - she was offered a part-time job by the owner but politely declined. The author chose the town name 'Booley' because the name sounded cool, and its Irish translation defines an area where Irish farmers bring their animals and themselves for respite. Filled with Irish whimsy, and charm, Becoming Finola is narrated by lead character Sophie White.

There is a saying that things happen in threes. It certainly applies to Gina Stebbins, widowed due to her husband's automobile accident. Next, daughter Gennifer leaves home after announcing that the parent she truly loved is gone, and Gina becomes unemployed. Best friend Sophie White devotes much of her time to Gina, assisting with daily life and chores. Believing it will bring change, Gina decides on a three-month vacation in Booley, Ireland, asking Sophie to accompany her. Within one day, Gina realizes that mourning and healing need to happen in the USA. Sophie is encouraged to remain in Booley, while thinking of her love Charlie St. Jean back in the States.

Sophie accepts a job offer in Liam Keegan's 'Finola O'Flynn' craft shop, once owned by Liam's ex-girlfriend of the same name. Though Finola left Booley a few years before, townspeople still speak lovingly of the differences she made in the community. Sophie establishes residence in 'the cottage above', assumes the personification of Finola, wears her clothes, and acquires a lilt of Irish brogue. With so much talk of Finola's deeds, Sophie's mantra becomes 'What Would Finola Do?' (WWFD). Sophie brings new life to the shop, improving marketing of hand-made beaded jewelry, attaching tags scripted 'Hope', 'Peace', etc.. After numerous queries, 'Are you Finola O'Flynn?', a tourist suggests that Sophie say 'yep'. Another tourist inadvertently reveals a heart-stopping surprise to Sophie! As the three months come to an end, Sophie is torn about leaving a community she has come to love.

Suzanne Strempek Shea's Becoming Finola will remain in readers' thoughts. The author provides zest to her novels, incorporating human frailties, accomplishments, losses, compassion, and humor. Ireland's enticing scenery plays a part with cliffs, cottages, walking paths, and 'the sea throwing itself against iceberg-shaped black rocks a dizzying six hundred feet below'. From the cliffs and over the sea, follow the flight of razorbills, kittiwakes, guillemots, and storm petrels, with plants of pink sea bindweed, and yellow bird's-foot trefoil intermingled with kidney vetch. I appreciated native words like 'knackered', 'kip', 'above' for up the road, and phrases like 'pull yer socks up, now', i.e., get busy, in a country where football is Gaelic football, and soccer is football, and hurling is played with a small curved stick.

Hopefully, there's a Booley waiting out there for each of us. On a pathway, perhaps you'll meet Liam, Joe Cronin, Una, Noel, and Finola, and find a wishing well named 'Saint Faicneam' where petitions are left for 'blessin's of the invisible you've lost ... health, love, hope'. The author tells us 'But when you stop and think about it, you realize that we all trample somebody at some point - whether or not it's intentional.' Her down-to-earth presentation and the beauty of her novels, guarantee a good read.

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