Dear America Wiki
Dear America Wiki
Not to be confused with "So Far from Home" (film).

"I am worn. Standing all day has caused my feet to ache terribly. Nothing relieves the pain. Weariness has crept into my bones. My eyes feel as if they will burst from my head thanks to the endless noise. The lint flies everywhere. Breathing itself is a burden."
Mary Driscoll[2]

So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl is the sixth book in Scholastic's Dear America series. It was written by Barry Denenberg, his second in the series. The book was published in October 1997. It was adapted into a television film in 1999. The book was followed by I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly.

During the Great Famine, Mary Driscoll immigrates from Ireland to Lowell, Massachusetts where she works in a mill.


"To the memory of my grandfather, Louis Denenberg"

Book description[]

"Friday, July 9, 1847

Mrs. Abbott's house is so near the mills we were able to walk there.... I never dreamed earthly hands could make anything that big. It looked to me like all the people in Ireland could fit inside. 'Twas like a fortress. There were smokestacks blowing their blackness heavenward and darkening the sky.
I felt cold although the day was warm. A shudder rippled through my body. There is nothing to be afraid of, I told myself. What could be worse than what I had already seen back in Ireland?
I had to go through those gates.


Two years after the Great Famine began in Ireland, fourteen-year-old Mary Driscoll receives a ticket for her passage to America from her aunt Nora Kinsella. Mary's mother is happy that she will be joining her sister Kate, who left two years earlier. Her father, however, is upset that both his daughters will now be gone, but remains quiet once he says his piece. Three weeks later, Mary departs her hometown of Skibbereen and a neighbor takes her to Cork where the ship is docked.

On board the ship, Mary befriends an married couple, Mr. and Mrs. O'Donnell, who are looking forward to seeing their daughter in America. She also becomes acquainted with Sean Riordan, a boy around her age. When Mr. and Mrs. O'Donnell pass away, Mary decides to find their daughter Alice. In Boston, Sean and his uncle Patrick Quinn are able locate Alice who is blind. Seeing her poor living conditions, Mr. Quinn takes her away and sends her to a safe place.

Kate fetches Mary in Boston and brings her to Lowell, where she helps her get a job at the mill. Mary stays with Nora in an Irish neighborhood called the Acre. A few days later, she starts her job at the mill and a "Yankee" girl, Annie Clark, trains Mary. The two of them become friends, after meeting by chance one Sunday. Annie invites Mary to her boardinghouse and introduces her to her roommates Laura Austin, Ruth Shattuck, and Clarissa Burroughs. Mary never warms to Clarissa, who is prejudiced against Irish people.

Work at the mill is hard, but Mary continues working tirelessly since she wishes to save enough for her parents to come to America soon. In October, her hopes are shattered when she receives the horrible news that both her parents have died. A few weeks later, Mr. Quinn writes to her about Sean's situation. He helped Alice reach safety during a riot and returned to help some others. When some men were found dead nearby, Sean was charged with accessory to murder. Mary believes she can help by paying Sean's bail and leaves Lowell the next day.


Sean left Boston immediately after Mary provided the bail money. His uncle Patrick became a wealthy man in the intervening years and was influential in Boston politics, despite never running for office. Patrick assisted Mary and Laura in placing Alice at Perkins Institute for the Blind. Mary's aunt taught school in Lowell for thirty-two more years. Her sister Kate continued to work as a maid until 1851. She married Dennis Kelly and had two children. Annie left the mills in 1848 and traveled west, settling in Racine, Wisconsin. She married a lawyer named Silas Mark. Mary died of cholera in 1849 at age seventeen.

Historical Note[]

In 1845, Ireland experienced a crop failure which became known as the Great Famine. One million people died and nearly two million emigrated to other countries. The Great Famine was caused by a fungus that attacked potatoes, the primary diet of Irish farmers at the time. Ireland was under British rule at the time and the wealthy English evicted their Irish tenants when they were unable to pay the rent. The British government took a "hands-off" approach to the famine at first. By 1847, the famine had reached "catastrophic levels." Eventually soup kitchens were set up to feed the people and foreign was rendered, but for many "it was too little too late."

Many Irish emigrated to America, a voyage that took at least six weeks. In America, Irish immigrants were often victimized and discriminated against, particularly for their Catholic religion. The Industrial Revolution began in Lowell and was the center of textile manufacturing by 1847. Two-thirds of the mills' employees were women. These independent women fought for better working conditions. The section includes twelve pictures representing the time period, a map of the United States and Lowell, and the lyrics to "Hear the Wind Blow."


Main article: List of So Far from Home characters
  • Mary Driscoll is a fourteen-year-old girl from Ireland who immigrates to America to escape poverty and hunger. In Massachusetts, she begins working at a mill.
  • Annie Clark, a "Yankee" girl who works at the mill with Mary. She helps Mary learn the ropes of her new job. The two of them eventually become good friends.



"So Far from Home" on VHS

Main article: So Far from Home (film)

In 1999, So Far from Home was adapted into a short television film. The film was produced by Scholastic Entertainment and aired on HBO. It was released on video tape the same year. Laura Bertram starred in the film as Mary.


Main article: Barry Denenberg

Barry Denenberg is a children's author whom writes about American history. He wrote five books in Dear America, including When Will This Cruel War Be Over?, One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, Early Sunday Morning, and Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Denenberg also penned two books in My Name Is America, and one in The Royal Diaries. In the "About the Author" section, Denenberg discussed how he was able to cover "critical and fascinating aspects of American history" in So Far from Home, including the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the Lowell Mill Girls.


  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People (1998)[3][4]


"The author would like to thank Martha Mayo at the Center for Lowell History for graciously sharing her intelligence and time."


  • The portrait on the cover is a detail from the 1886 painting Gulnihal by Frederic Leighton. The background is a detail of the 1874 painting The Dinner Hour, Wigan by Eyre Crowe.[5][6][7]
  • So Far from Home was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to be turned into a play by Paulette Laufer.[8] For unknown reasons, the play appears to have not been written.


See also[]

Dear America

A Journey to the New World | The Winter of Red Snow | When Will This Cruel War Be Over? | A Picture of Freedom
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie | So Far from Home | I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
West to a Land of Plenty | Dreams in the Golden Country | Standing in the Light | Voyage on the Great Titanic
A Line in the Sand | My Heart Is on the Ground | The Great Railroad Race | The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
A Light in the Storm | Color Me Dark | A Coal Miner's Bride | My Secret War | One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping
Valley of the Moon | Seeds of Hope | Early Sunday Morning | My Face to the Wind | Christmas After All
A Time for Courage | Where Have All the Flowers Gone? | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall | Survival in the Storm
When Christmas Comes Again | Land of the Buffalo Bones | Love Thy Neighbor | All the Stars in the Sky
Look to the Hills | I Walk in Dread | Hear My Sorrow


The Fences Between Us | Like the Willow Tree | Cannons at Dawn | With the Might of Angels | Behind the Masks
Down the Rabbit Hole | A City Tossed and Broken

External links[]