It has been a long time since I read a book which touched my heart deeply and made me this emotional. “My Heart Went Walking” is Sally Hanan’s debut novel, though she previously has written many flash stories and is even a winner of several contests for short stories. Having read through the book, I am not surprised she got publishers for this book as soon as she did.
This book is primarily about two sisters named Una and Ellie and their love for a boy named Cullen. In a way, it’s a coming-of-age-story that has love, loss, pain and redemption. The story is set in 1980s Ireland and opens with Una finding out she is pregnant with Cullen’s child. It is my understanding that a woman falling pregnant out of wedlock was taboo in Ireland then, and was a source of great shame for the family. So, Una plans to leave her small town and go to Dublin to spare her family the shame, and Cullen the burden of having to raise the child.
We travel with her as she tries to cope with being alone and pregnant in an unknown part of the country where she doesn’t know anyone. Fortunately, she meets new people and is able to start a new life.
We also simultaneously see the progress of Ellie and Cullen’s relationship in the two years since Una has disappeared, and that becomes the reason Una does not go back home, as she still loves Cullen. At this point, an unforeseen tragedy occurs, forcing everyone in her family to reevaluate their stance on the situation to help Ellie.
Getting into the characters, I truly connected with and related to Una. She, with all her good intentions and questionable actions, was very well fleshed out. Her dilemma with her situation, her palpable pain with her circumstances and her feelings about the various events of the book were drawn beautifully. The same is true for the way the author has composed the characters of Ellie and Cullen. Both of them are likable and we can’t help but root for good things to happen for them. The other characters, particularly that of the parents of the girls and Cullen, are deeply flawed but have good intentions.
Ultimately, when faced with an impossible and complicated situation, every one of them digs deep and are able to become better because of it. The ending of the story is a triumph of familial love which also gives Una the redemption she is longing for, and it was both lovely and fulfilling.
I should mention the beautiful descriptions the author has made of Ireland; it’s not surprising seeing that she is Irish and had lived in Ireland before moving to America. Her love for her country and her people comes through strongly. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to read a lovely book filled with beautiful human conflict and redemption.