Threads and Flames

Threads and Flames

4.4 5
by Esther Friesner

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It's 1910, and thirteen-year-old Raisa has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. It's overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and even dangerous, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. She finds work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists.

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It's 1910, and thirteen-year-old Raisa has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. It's overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and even dangerous, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. She finds work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists. Raisa makes friends and even-dare she admit it?- falls in love. But then 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. One of the city's most harrowing tragedies unfolds, and Raisa's life is forever changed. . . .

One hundred years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, this moving young adult novel gives life to the tragedy and hope of this transformative event in American history.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jeanne K. Pettenati J.D.
Young Raisa journeys alone from a small village in Poland to New York City at the turn of the century. She is searching for her beloved older sister, her only surviving blood relative. During the transatlantic trip, the mother of a fellow traveler dies, and Raisa takes responsibility for the little girl. Together they make it through Ellis Island, and are almost swallowed up in the sea of people and languages surrounding them. After some unlucky breaks, Raisa finds them a place to live and a job as a seamstress. She is a clever girl and works hard at learning English. Raisa is a strong, likable female protagonist. Readers will find themselves immersed in her world, sharing her successes and hardships alike. Raisa's story is set against the backdrop of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. A well told piece of historical fiction, readers will be outraged to learn that the greedy Triangle Factory bosses locked exits to stairwells to prevent stealing, which resulted in many avoidable deaths on that awful day. Workers mobilized after this tragedy so that it might never happen again; however, the guilty bosses were never brought to justice properly. Well written and engaging, this novel will educate and entertain readers. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D.
VOYA - Amanda McFadden
It is 1910, and thirteen-year-old Raisa, recently recovered from typhus, leaves her Polish shtetl to sail for America and join her older sister, Henda. On board, Raisa meets Zusa, and they strike up a friendship. The conditions on the boat are not ideal, and the girls find themselves looking after a young orphan girl, Brina, after her mother dies. Once the young travellers reach New York, they are separated at immigration, leaving Raisa to take care of Brina. Life is hard on Yiddish-speaking Raisa, who has no hope of finding her sister. Luckily Raisa and Brina are taken in as lodgers by a Polish family. As the weeks go by, Raisa manages to find work in a sewing factory. Eventually the sweatshop conditions become unbearable, and she leaves to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. As her life moves on, a romance develops with the Polish family's son, until one fateful day at work when she hears the word "fire." Friesner has written a beautifully crafted fiction novel loosely based on an actual event: a tragic fire in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. The story flows well overall. It is fast-moving and engrossing, holding this reader's interest until the very end. The likeable protagonist is bold and convincing, brought to life by Friesner's passionate writing style. Although the ending is logically predictable, it is also comforting and uplifting. Readers interested in fictional history coupled with a romantic theme will enjoy Threads and Flames. Reviewer: Amanda McFadden
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Raisa, a 13-year-old Jewish girl, leaves a Polish shtetl to journey to America to join her sister, Henda, who has mistakenly been told that Raisa is dead. The crossing to America, the frightening chaos of arrival, poor working conditions, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 form the novel's framework. Raisa makes some close friends on the ship and she takes responsibility for Brina, a child whose mother dies during the crossing. Raisa's overwhelming loneliness as she tries to adjust and find her sister permeates the story. The frustration she feels and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of succeeding spills dramatically from the pages despite some contrived twists and turns. When Raisa seeks some rest by entering a synagogue, she meets Gavrel Kamensy, an aspiring rabbinal student just a few years her senior. He brings her home and she and Brina become boarders with his family. The Kamensys' warmth and accepting nature allow Raisa the chance to look for work and begin her English studies. She feels lucky to get a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but the drudgery and unfair working conditions repeatedly foreshadow the horrendous event to follow. Gruesome details of workers jumping from the window in order to escape the pervasive flames are horrific. Scores die, many are physically injured, and still others, like Gavrel, suffer mentally. Anguish and frustration of looking for survivors and identifying the dead seem hopeless, but Raisa remains brave and focused. This would be a fine companion to Margaret Peterson Haddix's Uprising (S & S, 2007) and Mary Jane Auch's Ashes of Roses (Holt, 2002).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Raisa's sister, Henda, has earned enough money to send for Raisa to join her in the goldineh medina of America. When Raisa arrives in 1910 New York from her Polish shtetl, she finds Henda missing. Responsible for supporting both herself and a newly orphaned toddler, Raisa finds a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Raisa's friends, described in language rich with the cadences of Yiddish, each have jealousies, loves and flaws; they're not mere trajectories toward tragedy. But tragedy does strike, with the real-life factory fire that killed 146 workers. Vivid description of the deaths--of workers trapped on higher floors or leaping from windows to choose a faster death--unavoidably invites comparisons with another, more recent tragedy. The comparison serves the novel well; when the prose isn't strong enough for sufficient horror, visceral memories of 9/11 will do the trick (at least for those readers old enough to remember). After some tear-jerking, the happy conclusion comes too suddenly--shockingly so. The journey, however, is satisfying enough on its own. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

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