Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander
Paperback, 294 pages
Published December 27th, 2016
by Kensington Publishing Corporation
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city's Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are fallen women unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era's notorious institutions and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.

My thoughts…

I picked up The Magdalen Girls on a whim while shopping at Target. The cover drew me in and then after reading the synopsis I couldn’t resist purchasing it and I’m pleased I did. I enjoyed this book immensely, I feel bad saying that I enjoyed it because of the horrendous subject, it was filled with sadness, bitterness, loss, anger, and regret.

The Magdalen Girls is about three girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea, who are sent to one of Dublin's Magdalen Laundries in the 1960's, The Sisters of Holy Redemption. The Laundries were managed by Catholic nuns for girls who were believed to be unacceptable, either they had a baby out of wedlock, were prostitutes or were merely too pretty and may entice men. The Laundries were meant to rehabilitate the women with hard work, punishment and prayer.

Sister Anne picked up the envelope and bent over her like a dark angel. “You’d best come inside, unless you’d like to spend the rest of your life on the grounds. I wouldn’t suggest it.”
Teagan knew she had no choice as she watched the nun climb the steps to the door.
It creaked as Sister Anne pulled it open. “Welcome to your new home-for as long as is necessary to expiate your sins.”

Based on true stories this book gives the reader a view into the awful living and working conditions the girls and women had to endure. The women are stripped of their identity, they are forced to work, eat, sleep and pray.

“We know how to deal with such crude behavior. Monica will learn.” “Monica?” Nora’s voice curdled into a snarl. “Who the hell is Monica?”

Sister Anne smiled. “Why, you, child. You’re Monica, named after a beloved saint. Your hair will be cut, you’ll wear a uniform, and you’ll say your prayers like a good penitent. I dare say ‘Monica’ will be an improvement on ‘Nora.’ Take her to the room, so she can see the error of her ways.”

Teagan and Nora realize they have become inmates of the nuns and soon accept that the only way to survive the torture is to work and follow direction until they can escape.

I would recommend reading this book, it opened my eyes to the horrific conditions young women endured in the Magdalen Laundries and asylums, as they were also known. The laundries were not limited to Ireland, they also existed in England, Scotland, the United States, Canada and elsewhere and they were also not solely under the authority of the Catholic Church. I'm looking forward to reading more historical fiction from V.S. Alexander.

Happy Reading -J


  1. Some of the books that I have enjoyed the most came to me on a whim as well. This does sound like a really good story. I am so glad that you enjoyed it!

  2. Lately I've really been enjoying the historical fiction books that I have picked up. Have a wonderful day Carole :)