In Russia, Perele's family was well off, descendants of a master artisan who was said to have "golden hands." But in America she chooses poverty and grueling work rather than a comfortable life for the price of "pretending to be who I was not."
In addition to Perele's conflict, the book brings to life the little-known history of immigrant girls who worked in garment industry sweatshops, exploited and yet independent "free" women.
Johnson was inspired to write this novel after learning of the life of entrepreneur Lane Bryant, a Russian-Jewish emigrant who invented ready-to-wear maternity clothes and founded a clothing chain. Johnson tried to learn more about Bryant, going as far as the Library of Congress, but turned up little. After I Said No is her imaginative recreation of a similar situation. In the book, Perele's tailored clothing helps liberate pregnant women from the shadowy confines of their boudoirs.
Sheila Golburgh Johnson has written a story with a positive feminist message. Teenagers and adults alike will be glad they got to know Perele and her friends and to discover what life was life for working girls in New York not so long ago." Katy Meigs, Goleta Valley Voice, March 22, 2000