Where the Heart Should Be

Where the Heart Should Be

By Author / Illustrator

Sarah Crossan


Historical Fiction

Age range(s)



Bloomsbury Publishing PLC








The outstanding novel from the Carnegie Medal-winning, former Laureate na nOg Sarah Crossan; thought-provoking and incredibly moving, it explores love and family during The Great Hunger.

Ireland, 1846. Nell is working as a scullery maid in the kitchen of the Big House. Once she loved school and books and dreaming. But there's not much choice of work when the land grows food that rots in the earth. Now she is scrubbing, peeling, washing, sweeping for Sir Philip Wicken, the man who owns her home, her family's land, their crops, everything. His dogs are always well fed, even as famine sets in.

Upstairs in the Big House, where Nell is forbidden to enter, is Johnny Browning, newly arrived from England: the young nephew who will one day inherit it all. And as hunger and disease run rampant all around them, a spark of life and hope catches light when Nell and Johnny find each other.

This is a love story, and the story of a people being torn apart. This is a powerful and unforgettable novel from the phenomenally talented Sarah Crossan.



All of Crossan's books are deeply affecting, totally immersive and utterly unforgettable and Where the Heart Should Be is no exception. It's the story of lowly scullery maid Nell and Johnny, English heir to his Uncle's estate in mid-nineteenth century Ireland. As hunger, disease and famine savage Nell's rural community, she finds herself conflicted by her feelings for Johnny - a man whose class, nationality and entire world are forbidden for the likes of her. But whilst Johnny's Uncle, Lord Wicken, is a malignant Landlord, completely without feeling or justice for his poverty-stricken tenants, Nell sees that Johnny is different - and an initial spark of feeling amid turmoil and uprising leads to an improbable romance.

Crossan's latest book is a love story set against a harrowing historical background. The stark reality of life at the time is expertly conveyed and as ever, I am amazed at how the author manages to convey so much emotion with such an economy of words.

This is a powerful exploration of love, hope and family and also an urgent but eloquent reminder of a devastating time in Ireland's history.

432 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


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