Book Review: Golden Boxty in the Fry Pan by Pat Spenser (@DrPatSpencer)

I read a review of this book and was fascinated with the historical time — the Great Depression and the point of view, that of a young girl, based on the author’s mother.

Six year old Katie Ryan lives in a small, third-floor, unheated flat in Swampoodle, Philadelphia, along with her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Her Nana, who gives Katie her constant companion – a cloth doll named Molly – has consumption and the doctor says she needs to be in a warm, dry climate to recover. This sets her mother on a path to have them leave Pennsylvania for California. But how to do that? The train tickets are expensive and Mr. McGuire, the grandfather, and her father earn barely enough to keep them alive.

Growing problems with her oldest brother, anti-Irish discrimination and the need to support the family finally drives the family to a train trip west in search of a better life. But before they reach California, they are diverted to Colorado with the hope of well-paying jobs for Katie’s father and grandfather.

The family’s fortune improves and they move into a house. Which brings me to boxty. Boxty are delicious Irish potato pancakes. I’ve had them and they are a family favorite in the Ryan family home in the 1930s. To Katie, they come to represent the warmth, safety and security of family.

After her grandparents die and her father spirals into alcoholism, a further twist of fate leaves Katie to assume the role of mother for her three youngest brothers. In the end, Katie must overcome the toughest of circumstances to escape from a sinister orphanage where she and her youngest brothers have been dumped, in order to secure a safe life for them all.

I can’t say enough about this book. I fell in love with Katie – her matter-of-fact view of life, her bravery, and her determination to hold her family together in the face of continuing tragedy. She hardly has a childhood and the events that buffet her are heartbreaking. All of the characters in the book are extremely well drawn – I still harbor a hatred for her father – and desperate choices her mother and father have to make are hopeful as well as destructive. The book speaks sadly to wearying, unending rounds of childbearing in a time without birth control and the treatment of children in orphanages in those days. And yet there are small slices of humor scattered here and there with the antics of the children. The reader is left with a nice dose of hope at the end.

I recommend this book highly. It is a gripping read, one the reader is unlikely to put down, and a realistic view of desperate times in this county and their singular effect on a generation of immigrants.

About the author:

Golden Boxty in the Frypan was inspired by Dr. Pat Spenser’s mother’s coming-of-age experiences during the 1930s. She is a retired professor and community college president, who has lived in three countries and seven states. Pat loves to travel and spent time in Africa, Spain, France, Croatia, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Greece, Mexico, the Galapagos, and the Bahamas, as well as Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands and has road-tripped across the continental United States several times. She enjoys getting to know people and learning about their culture.

Pat’s short story, A Healing Place, won the 2019 Oceanside Literary Festival. Other short stories are published in journals such as the Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Potato Soup Journal, Almost an Author, and in a California Writers Circle anthology.

She speaks to service and community organizations on human trafficking, writing processes, and her books. When not writing, Pat golfs, reads, walks the beach, hangs out with family and friends, or frequents book clubs and writing critique groups. She now lives in Southern California with her husband.

You can visit Pat Spencer online at:



Instagram: DrPatSpencer

Twitter: @DrPatSpencer



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