Originally published in 2001, The Hunger is a 2015 reissue of one of the My Story books, all of which focus on first-person accounts of key moments in European and American history.
The year is 1845. Phyllis McCormack is fourteen in rural Ireland – just old enough to begin questioning the way her country is run and to see that it’s not just the potato blight but politics that causes the famine that hits that summer. Through her brother, a committed Young Irelander, and the son at the Big House where she works, Edward, Phyllis learns about landlords and middlemen and what the British government are doing – or failing to do – as the Irish population starve.
Although at times the diary-style format strains to be credible – Phyllis does an awful lot of explaining about her daily life and notes more political facts than she might reasonably be aware of – the first-person narrator manages to bring the injustice and horror of the Great Famine to life, and is likely to tug on the heartstrings of young readers. The romantic element will also appeal, although ultimately the book feels more like a text to be used in classrooms than one which readers will come to independently.
The book includes a historical note, a timeline of Ireland from the mid-eighteenth to late-nineteenth century, and images printed in newspapers at the time, making it a useful accompaniment to history classes about the Famine.