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Essie lives a hardscrabble life with her widowed mother and younger siblings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 1900s. The grim specter of poverty always hovers, yet Essie's spirit, her talent for creating beautiful hats, and her bountiful love for her little sister Zelda help to imbue their lives with joy and positive energy. As chapters alternate between earlier and later settings, we follow Essie to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The plot builds—and so does a gradual awareness of cracks in Essie's grasp of reality. She is in denial about an accident that has taken Zelda's life, and she pursues a friendship with the mysterious Harriet Abbott, who shows up to work at the Triangle but does not seem at all like a typical working girl. Davies weaves two historic events—the disappearance of a wealthy heiress escaping family scandal and the catastrophic Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, graphically depicted—into a lively tale of striving, unspeakable loss, and an eventual life-affirming resolution.