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REVIEW: American Pie by Margaret St. George

Dear Ms. St. George,

Years ago, after reading the DIK review for “A Century of American Romance” at AAR, I tracked down all twelve of the OOP books and read half of them. I can’t recall why I didn’t continue considering how good I thought those six were but, there you have it. Reading a more recent book on Chinese immigration to the US brought this book to mind and I hunted through my house until I found my copy for a reread. Given that you’ve also written under the name Maggie Osborne, anyone who’s not happy reading about the grimmer, grimier aspects of life should probably skip this one.

American Pie by Margaret St. George Lucie Kolska is fresh off the boat from Poland and has just successfully made her way through Ellis Island when she meets Jamie Kelly who’s only one week off a boat from Ireland. As they say in Poland, he’s been struck by “love’s elbow” at the sight of Lucie and knows this is the woman for him. Only problem is he doesn’t ask her name before they are parted and doesn’t learn it ’til after he takes on her brother in a fist fight arranged by a construction foreman to test whether or not Jamie will get a job there. He beats Stefan and thereby ruins his chances to be granted permission to call on Lucie.

Lucie starts her new life in NYC appalled at the tenement where she will live but determined to win her chance at the American Dream. She soon meets Stefan’s Polish fiancée, Greta and begins to settle into her new life. After weeks of looking, she gets a job as a laundress in a private home and is thrilled to be working 12 hours a day, six days a week to earn 80 cents a day. Kind of puts my job in perspective. The juicy gossip about her fellow servants and her employers – the daughter of the house is wearing lip color! – that she passes on to Greta is an American Upstairs Downstairs. Lucie’s wistful descriptions of the differences between the Roper mansion serve to contrast it to the squalid tenement they live in, with the beauty, sunshine and flowers making the two Polish women long for a little home of their own.

American Pie 1990<Meanwhile, Jamie Kelly hangs on to the backbreaking job he won for himself and continues to ask Stefan for permission to see Lucie but is continually denied. He doesn’t give up though and his patience and persistence is finally rewarded. I like the quiet determination Lucie shows in the face of her brother’s vehement resistance, challenging him to let go of the limitations of the old world in which a woman has no choice and embrace the freedoms of the new. Jamie certainly has no problems with Lucie’s intelligence and desire to learn about her new country and shepherds her around NYC on their stolen Tuesday evening dates. He won my approval by not only thinking she should have an opinion but caring about it too.

Fate isn’t always kind or fair to those trying for a piece of the American Pie and all the characters have to suffer advances and retreats in their efforts to have a better life. The trials and tribulations they go through tell much of the horrors of tenement life and the job situation of the poor at that time. There’s a lot of two steps forward, one and a half back. As I said, all the nitty-gritty of it is told. The story does earn major kudos from me because the means by which the Kolskas and Jamie win their part of the American dream also not only brings them all together but cements their final transition from the limitations of their old lives and into the possibilities of their new one.

But the story is also about the love of the two couples. Love so great that it endures through all the above misery. And miracle of miracles, the characters act true to the conduct of the day. No feisty heroines or bed hopping on the side though Jamie and Lucie do chastely fog some windows. Watching Jamie and Lucie fall in love is charming.

This is not always an easy book to read for the reasons I’ve mentioned already and one other that I won’t as it’s a mega-spoiler. Let’s just say I’m glad that we have OSHA now. I once got into a discussion about it with a friend who is married to a Pole and she had a few things to say about the background of the Polish characters as well as the names used in the story but perhaps these were change to avoid confusion for modern readers. Still, reading the book is worth the effort and I’m glad I did. B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

7 Comments

  1. Sunita
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 09:06:05

    Oooh, I have this one in my TBR! I found it in my long-gone-and-lamented UBS. I’m so glad it’s good, although since it’s Maggie Osborne it has to be, right? Thanks for the review, Jayne.

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  2. Jayne
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 09:34:11

    @Sunita: Eight books in the series (I think the first 8) were reissued in 2004 as “The Century of American Dreams” series (note the different series names in the two covers). I’d like to read and review the whole series but we’ll see if this works out with my time management skills.

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  3. Keishon
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 12:00:15

    I didn’t know Maggie Osborne had a pen name. I know of one but not this one. I can’t remember anymore its been so long. Thanks for the review. Will track this one down.

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  4. A.M.K.
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 12:57:50

    Yeah, the names weren’t really done all that well… I don’t think it had anything do to with modern readers, it looked more as if Osborne just hadn’t done her homework. Also, IIRC, the only “native” phrase she used (or one of the very few) is “ja”, meaning “yes”, which is not even Polish, but German (in Polish “ja” means something else entirely).

    For some pretty well done Polish elements read Delilah Marvelle’s The Perfect Scandal, in Osborne’s book the Polish aspect is really rather nominal. Of course, I realize these flaws are not important to everyone, but just wanted to add my two cents ;)

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  5. Jayne
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 14:33:47

    @A.M.K.: My friend mentioned some other details besides the names such as Stefan’s mention the Cossacks raiding villages, the fact that no one mentions that at this time Poland was partitioned, the ‘ja” vs the correct “tak,” and such.

    Another book I read which is set in Poland is Kate Allan’s Krakow Waltz.” http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/b-reviews/review-krakow-waltz-by-kate-allan/

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  6. A.M.K.
    Feb 20, 2013 @ 17:04:09

    @Jayne:

    I’ve heard of Krakow Waltz, I hope to read it eventually :)

    There’s also Something Shady by Pamela Morsi – I think she at least mentions the partitions. The hero is a Polish immigrant. And Eva Ibbotson had a Polish hero in one of her short stories, set before and during World War II (and some of the story takes place in Poland) – I believe Sidi was the title. It was quite sweet (as were most of Ibbotson’s stories :))

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  7. Romance Tropes: Too Poor to Marry | Genevieve Turner, Historical Romance Writer
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 14:06:16

    [...] Thinking on stories that I have read featuring Too Poor to Marry heroes, I realized that some of my favorite stories, ones that stick with me long after I’ve read them, feature this exact trope.  Courtney Milan’s first novella, This Wicked Gift, has it, and it remains my favorite of hers, even with all the other amazing works she written since then. Stef Ann Holm wrote a wonderful Christmas story (set in California!) called Jolly Holly that I still love to read at the holidays.  And there’s the touching and tragic American Pie by Margaret St. George (aka Maggie Osborne) featuring newly arrived immigrants in NYC in the 1890s. (Dear Author review here) [...]

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