Cover Image: Factory Girls

Factory Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Factory Girls surprised me. It is very much a period piece, set in 1994 in Northern Ireland. This would have been during The Troubles when living in this part of the world was dangerous and miserable. Even civilians were targets and no one was safe from the violence.

Maeve, our narrator, is waiting on her GCSE results. She needs decent grades to go to the school at which she's been offered a place, in London. To save money for their respective moves Maeve and her bffs Caroline and Aoife work at the local shirt factory for the summer.

What follows is a humerous but damning portrait of the summer of '94 in small town Northern Ireland. We see the turmoil between the Catholics and Protestants, the Irish and the British, the IRA and everyone it seems. We hear about Maeve's older sister who committed suicide, and we slowly learn that she wasn't someone who could mentally handle all of the violence and fighting in her community. There's one scene where the girls, as young children, are at a practice for a Christmas pageant that gets bombed. Luckily both girls are okay, Maeve was cut badly but otherwise both were fine physically, but Deirdre seemed very much affected on an emotional level. Maeve says that their mother put them to bed but her sister couldn't sleep:

"She'd stayed awake for hours that night, watching Deirdre blink in the bed opposite, her eyes glittering like broken glass." (pg218)

We hear other instances where Deirdre seem to internalize a lot of her feelings, which appears from the outside to have greatly contributed to her suicide. It's beyond sad, even more so because Maeve doesn't seem to connect this, or if she does she doesn't verbalize it in this novel.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away but we find Maeve maturing during the summer, expanding her horizons when she meets and attempts to befriend Protestants, and finally figuring out what is really important to her. She grows while coming to terms with the violent community she's known her whole life.

I would definitely recommend this to my reading friends. Especially those who love introspective novels where the protagonist is easy to love and root for.

A huge thanks to the author Michelle Gallen, Algonquin Books, and NetGalley for providing an e-ARC for my review purposes. This did not influence my review in any way.

Was this review helpful?

I read bit about conflict in Ireland through nonfiction, but none of them really described the level of complexity in daily lives of Protestants and Catholics that bound to live side by side because they all have to fight for their bread instead of reckless wars. Both sides were taught to not to speak to each other, hate each other passionately, and if possible not to even pee in each other’s presence. Looking at the endless fear in each and every single “normal” person, was this really their war or something that was created by parties meant benefit from the conflict while they were safe and sound somewhere else?

Three friends waiting for their exam results before getting out of that frigging town. They decided to spend their summer at a factory saving up some money and have a taste of that adulthood. They walked into the factory knowing that they wouldn’t be paid enough for their trouble but also they have to work with Protestants shoulder to shoulder. 13 weeks of their employment was a documentary of complexity I mentioned earlier. At least Maeve managed to get a happy ending instead of a strong one like her teacher once told her.

Some parts were funny as any high school kids’ story would be and some parts were bit disturbing. The book is full of triggers ranging from depression and suicide to living under shadow of a national unrest. I enjoyed following these three friends who couldn’t be more different and same at the same time. Also I think I figured out few Irish expressions and words 😜

Was this review helpful?

This is a brilliant and quietly funny novel about life in Northern Ireland in the year before the cease-fire. Michelle Gallen not only creates an engaging protagonist in Maeve, but populates the novel with many small anecdotes and reminiscences of Maeve's life and the sectarian violence she has become inured to.
There is a History Boys like quality to the novel, as Maeve and her two friends Caroline and Aoife await exam results that will decide their academic future. As they spend their summer days working in a garment factory, the chaos and violence of The Troubles goes on, sometimes too close for comfort.
I loved the characters that the reader only knows through Maeve's memories: briefly appearing, vividly drawn.
I admire anyone who can write about life during The Troubles with both compassion and humor, and Michelle Gallen excels!

Was this review helpful?

This book about three young women living in Northern Ireland during The Troubles is an intriguing glance at this period, but does not quite reach its full potential. As main character Maeve and her friends Caroline and Aiofe await their exam results, the complexity of their lives unfold and it is clear that much more than a test will determine their future. Though the concept of this story is interesting and hits right in the 90’s nostalgia, I felt like something was kind of off about the characters that made it difficult to really get invested in the story. However, it is still an enjoyable read for anyone interested in learning about life during The Troubles.

Maeve Murray is determined to escape her small, Northern Irish town and the memory of her dead sister to study journalism in London. The only thing standing between her and freedom are her exam results. Looking to busy themselves while waiting for their scores, Maeve and her friends Caroline and Aiofe get jobs at the shirt factory. Run by the skeezy Englishman Andy Strawbridge and employing both Catholic and Protestant workers, the factory presents an entirely new kind of challenge for Maeve and her friends. As The Troubles rock the girls’ small world and more about their lives is revealed, it becomes clear that the future hangs on much more than a test.

The fact that this story was set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles made me really excited to dig in. It is not a period I know much about and was excited to be thrown into such an interesting time and place. This book definitely draws you in and cleverly utilizes characters with very different home lives to give a robust illustration of life in this small town. The trio of young women at the story’s center are uniquely complex and it is satisfying to understand each more and more as the story progresses. Gallen does a great job balancing this character development with the greater conflict and tensions that are constantly threatening to reshape her characters’ lives.

Despite all of its strength, this book didn’t quite meet my expectations going in. However, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what wasn’t quite working for me. I guess I never really felt the chemistry between any of the characters. Though it is clear that Maeve, Caroline, and Aiofe are close, I never really got a sense of true chemistry between them. Honestly, all the characters didn’t quite seem to gel together even though each one was enjoyable on their own. Things improve as the book continues, but it took a while for me to feel any connection to the characters and story.

Was this review helpful?

This was a complicated reading experience, full of feelings. If, like me, you were initially drawn to read FACTORY GIRLS because of its blurb comparison to a certain popular Netflix show, you might walk away from it feeling a tad disappointed. Aside from the obvious character and setting similarities, this novel lacks much of the effervescent humour and energy and joy that makes that show such a stand-out. The story that FACTORY GIRLS sets out to tell is actually much darker, both on and immediately beneath the surface, though it eventually allows some pinpricks of light to stream in. This isn't a bad thing. But it does require a slight reset of one's expectations.

Taken for what it is, removed from any pop cultural markers, I did enjoy it. As a main character, Maeve was a perfect and believable combination of biting determination and self-centred directionless-ness. (My name is Taylor, and occasionally I make up words, hiya.) The story that this book told was primarily hers, moving along with her as she navigated complicated political, social, professional, and familial divisions and separations during her final summer in Northern Ireland before university. The beginning of the book felt a bit slow and repetitive, as it set up the various conflicts that would come into play later, but the ending was an absolute storm, if just slightly predictable in terms of Maeve's personal journey was wrapped up. I look forward to picking this one up again in its fully published form and spending some more time with it.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for this eARC. And thank you to Michelle Gallen for this incredible book!

Factory Girls tells the story of Maeve Murray, awaiting her A level results and working in a Northern Ireland factory with her friends Aoife and Carolyn.

Gallen deftly puts the reader in the middle of the Troubles, showing those of us outside the UK and Ireland, just how prominent the friction between Catholics and Protestants was in every day life.

One of the most striking passages is Maeve’s memory of the Parish Hall Mortar Attack, when the IRA launches three mortars into the kids’ Christmas show dress rehearsal:

“Maeve’d learned early on to sit still after an explosion. She liked listening to her ears ring while her mam or dad scrambled to the phone.”

Both of Gallen’s books are fabulous reads. (The Big Girl Small Town audiobook is beautifully narrated by Nicola Coughlan.) I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

Was this review helpful?

Miigweetch NetGalley and Algonquin Books for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

This book tells the story of Maeve, an 18-year old living in Northern Ireland in 1994. She has just taken her exams and is awaiting the results, which will determine whether or not she is admitted to the university of her choice, located in London. It is Maeve’s dream to leave her troubled town. During the summer she and her two friends, Caroline and Aoife, have taken jobs working in the local shirt factory. I found this to be a quick and engaging read.

I loved this book and highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Irish history, particularly the Troubles. Dialogue in the book is written in Hiberno-English, which really adds to the flavor and authenticity of the story, even if it does require a bit of a learning curve. I will be on the lookout for the audiobook version - the right narrator could be craic!

Was this review helpful?

Every generation has their stories of when they came into adulthood. This is about female friends who are working together in the Summer before they get their grades and move on to the next chapter of their lives.

Set during the Troubles in Ireland, the Protestants and Catholics are butting heads and yet inside the factory where the girls work, it seems their boss, Andy, is the main point of contention among the workers. Maeve and her friends soon find that growing up isn’t just about getting out of the house and small town they grew up in, it’s so much more than that and Maeve learns to deal with things that she’s just not ready for in life, which could be just the thing she needs to move forward in her life.

A well told story that makes you both dislike and yet feel for some of the characters at times. This is so well written that I am going to check out the author’s Big Girl Small Town, because she has captured me with her writing and I want and need more!

Was this review helpful?

an enjoyable read about a girl (Maeve) and her friends working a summer job in a shirt factory in Northern Ireland, while waiting on their exam results. This book was well written and depicting the tensions of the time very well. I enjoyed reading it very much

thank you to the author and publisher for providing this ARC on netgalley for me to review

Was this review helpful?

While Maeve and her two best friends are awaiting exams results they work in a shirt factory owned and managed by Protestant English men. Set in the 1990s during The Troubles, this story of small town Ireland depicts the characters and situations well. Maeve is a likable character and her story well worth reading.

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed the levity and humor while tackling a pretty serious topic of The Troubles in Ireland. It was a very interesting read and took a bit of time to get used to the slang, but I really liked the novel!

Was this review helpful?

While it took time for me to adjust to the Slang/venacular of this novel, once I had adapted the story, writing, and characters were engaging and enjoyable. Set over the course of the summer of 1994, after her graduation from high school, Maeve is waiting for the results of her exams to determine her future. For most of her life, she has hoped to escape here small town in Northern Ireland and The Troubles which have been the biggest constant in her life. Her final month, fraught with anticipation of her results and of ongoing peace talks, opens her eyes to the politics of her town and country, while she works in an "integrated" (Catholic and Protestant) shirt factory.

Was this review helpful?

I'll be honest, I was drawn to this because I love Derry Girls and it's about teenaged girls in a different part of North Ireland around the same time. I wasn't sure what to expect but I really enjoyed this. Somehow it's slightly tragic while also being touching and funny. It's 1994 and Maeve, Caroline, and Aiofe are all waiting for their exam results before they figure out which universities they're heading to. Between the end of the school year and their results showing up in August, they all decide to get work at a local shirt factory, which is run by sleazy Andy Strawbridge, a British guy that most of the factory workers don't really trust. Maeve and Caroline get a flat together and Maeve is finally able to move out of the room she shared with her sister Deirdre, who committed suicide several years earlier. There's a lot her about Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the animosity between Catholics and Protestants is palpable outside of the factory, but muted inside where they have to work together. A really interesting coming of age story that mostly focuses on Maeve, who at 18 has grown too big for her very small, very damaged town.

Was this review helpful?

Just as with Big Girl Small Town, Michelle Gallen manages to make you laugh while reckoning with the realities of the Troubles. That’s quite a feat! It’s a completely enjoyable read and I look forward to anything else she writes.

Was this review helpful?

This was an engaging story skillfully told. I had only vague knowledge of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s (I was a child/teen) and this put a human context on those struggles. The narrative voice is engaging and hilarious--literally laughed out loud a couple times. Watch out if profanity and sexual talk disturbs you.

Also a great glimpse into what a garment factory in a European nation was like at the time that the industry was largely shifting to manufacturers in Asian countries.

I received an ARC of this novel from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Was this review helpful?

To be honest, I did quit halfway through this title to reread Michelle Gallen's super amazing debut BIG GIRL, SMALL TOWN - which takes place in the same universe as this title. But I did go back and finish FACTORY GIRLS. I have reread BIG GIRL SMALL TOWN so many times. Its a beauty of a novel, comfortable. FACTORY GIRLS is not so comfortable. There are nascent plot points that are designed to get you riled. But that's good too. I hope Michelle Gallen has a long and healthy career. She has an ear for dialect and yet does not overwhelm with phonetic spelling, which is a hard line to hit. Thank you for the ARC I plan on enjoying this title for years to come.

Was this review helpful?

This book pulled me in from the very start. The writing is smart and made me want to keep reading. The main character is a strong and smart young Northern Irish woman named Maeve. Maeve is waiting for her exam grades so she can get into university. While she waits, she gets a job at the local factory and moves into her first flatshare with one of her best friends. Maeve has a lot to navigate as she learns the ropes of factory work, works alongside Protestants for the first time, and deals with complicated friendships. She reflects back on growing up in a small town in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and on events that took place within her family. She tries things and makes mistakes and learns from them and sometimes gets burned. Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for an advanced copy in return for my honest opinion.

Was this review helpful?

While waiting for her exam results, Maeve takes a job at the local shirt factory with her friends. Set during the Troubles in 1994, the book also touches on what it was like for teens during this turbulent time. Fans of the TV show Derry Girls might enjoy this title.

Was this review helpful?

Kudos to the author for tackling some serious subjects with such humor and grace. Enjoyed these characters and their viewpoints.

Was this review helpful?

Factory Girls is a vivacious coming-of-age tale set in Ireland in the summer of 1994. The book deals with upheaval – political, social, economic, family, and personal. Not a single word is wasted as the author pulls readers deeper into Maeve’s life and all the ways in which it is complicated, confusing, and uncertain. Awaiting the test results that will largely determine her future, Maeve moves out of her parents’ house, starts a new job at a factory, and has to navigate new relationships with people on both sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide. Though the writing could easily slip into the morose, it is full of colour and life with a boldness that boarders on being brash. Maeve is not a charming character, but I found myself caring about her deeply. In fact, many of the characters are downright unlikable, but they felt so real that I could not help but root for (most of) them. The language in this book was immersive so that I often found myself thinking with an Irish accent and using colloquial phrases after reading! This novel gives few conclusions but in the midst of what could be something dismal, it offers hope. I truly enjoyed this book.

Was this review helpful?