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When Rose Nolan arrives on Ellis Island as a seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant, she is looking for a land of opportunities; what she finds is far from all she'd dreamed. Stubborn and tenacious, she refuses to give up. Left alone to fend for herself and her younger sister, Rose is thrust into a hard-knock life of tenements and factory work.
But even as she struggles, Rose finds small bright points in her new lifeat the movies with her working friends and in the honest goals of her mentor, Gussie. Still, after her exhausting days as a working girl, Rose must face the confusion of balancing her need for simple fun with her more wary feelings about joining Gussie in her fight for better working conditions.
When the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 rushes into Rose's life, her confusions are brought to an all-too-painful head. To whom and to what can she turn when everything around her is in ashes?
Sharp, poignant, and stirringly real, MJ Auch has written a powerful historical novel that is hard to put down.
About the Author
MJ Auch is the award-winning author of One-Handed Catch, Ashes of Roses, Wing Nut, Guitar Boy, and numerous other books for young readers. She lives in upstate New York with her family.
Read an Excerpt
Ashes of Roses
By Mary Jane Auch
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2002 Mary Jane Auch
All rights reserved.
There was no sense tryin' to sleep. This was the last night we'd be tossed by the waves in our narrow bunks. We were due to pull into New York Harbor at dawn, puttin' an end to the most unbearable two weeks of my life.
I shifted in my cot, tryin' to nudge my little sister, Bridget, over. She was barely four, and small for her age, but she took up more than her share of the narrow shelf we were supposed to call a bed. Ma had staked out a claim to four bunks in a row on the lower level when we first boarded the ship, but Bridget whimpered that she was lonely and moved into my bunk the first night. Next to us was Maureen, the middle sister, who made it clear from the beginnin' that she wasn't sharin' a bunk with anyone. I don't remember bein' that stubborn at twelve.
I heard poor little Joseph begin to whimper. He slept with Ma, although for the amount of sleepin' he did he might as well have kept his eyes wide open. The last few days especially, he was fussin' more time than he was quiet. I'd be glad to get off the ship so I wouldn't have to endure the comments of our fellow passengers, who were gettin' less patient with Joseph by the day. I loved my baby brother, but I wasn't so anxious to be around him myself.
I nudged Bridget over again, but the motion of the boat sent her rollin' right back to me. Finally, I gave up and fished for my shoes and shawl under my bunk. I decided to go up on the deck and see if any land was in sight. I tucked Bridget in with Maureen and climbed the ladder to the deck. A soft gray light filled the sky, and the wind made me pull my coat tighter around me. I wished we could have made this trip in the summer instead of February. We'd seen so little of sunshine, I'd almost forgotten what it looked like.
It had been two weeks ago that we set sail from Cork. As long as I could remember, Da had talked about comin' to America for a better life. So many people had left before us, it seemed the natural thing to do. As we pulled out of port, one man had shouted, "Will the last man out of Ireland please lock the door?" That brought a round of laughter from his friends, but we weren't more than an hour at sea before they were gulpin' pints of ale and singin' about wantin' to go back to dear old Ireland. Grandma Nolan had told Da that, no matter how much you wanted to leave, Ireland would tug on your heart until you returned. I thought she was just sayin' that to make him stay with her in Limerick, but maybe there was somethin' to it.
The deck was empty this last mornin' except for an old man who always seemed to be there, as if watchin' for land would bring it on sooner. He was leanin' on the rail, squintin' into the wind. "See that?" he asked.
I looked around to make sure he was talkin' to me. "See what?" I said.
"That dark shape over there? And another to the left of it? That's the Narrows. When we go through there, we'll be in New York Harbor."
"Ye mean it's land?" I asked. "I can't see anything at all."
As we moved closer, I could gradually make out what the man was talkin' about. There were other ships, too, but I couldn't tell if they were comin' or goin'. Other passengers were startin' to appear on deck now.
My heart beat fast as I crashed down the ladder to the steerage quarters. "Ma! Maureen! Get up! We can see New York. Come up on the deck."
Ma sat up and went into action. "Help me get shoes on the girls, Margaret Rose. And make sure all our things are packed into the two suitcases. Yer father has the trunk over in the men's quarters."
"But can't all this wait, Ma? I just want to see the city. I'll come right back to help ye."
All the talkin' had wakened other passengers. As they climbed out of their bunks, every inch of floor space filled with bodies. The first- and second-class passengers had their own compartments, but in steerage we were crammed like fish in a tin.
Maureen sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Where are we? Is this America?" She pulled on her shoes and headed for the ladder with laces floppin'.
"Stay right here," Ma said. "We need to gather our things. Maureen, take the large suitcase, and I'll carry the small one along with luggin' Joseph. Margaret Rose, you carry the feather bed and hang on to Bridget. There's goin' to be a great crush of people gettin' off this boat."
"But we're goin' to miss the Statue of Liberty," I protested. "I could've stayed on the deck, but I wanted ye all to see it."
"And see it we will," Ma said, "but we're not goin' up on the deck until I say we're ready. Now run a comb through yer hair, and yer sisters', too. I'll not have Uncle Patrick see ye lookin' like a bunch of ragamuffins."
Maureen and I were ready to jump out of our skins by the time Ma decided we were ready. We waited our turn in line. Maureen went up first; then Ma handed the large suitcase to her. It was my turn next. I was glad to be goin' up this ladder for the last time. All through the voyage, the boys would make a big fuss about lookin' up the girls' skirts as we climbed. They must have been pretty bored to get so worked up over a glimpse of bloomers.
Ma had the feather bed tied firmly in a tablecloth, but it was still bulky. I had struggled about halfway up the ladder when the ship began to tilt. I clung to the rung above me, but there was a ruckus behind Ma.
"Saints preserve us, we're sinkin'," a red-faced man shouted. He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me down from the ladder, then pushed ahead and climbed out to save himself. People were shovin' behind us.
"Go ahead, Margaret Rose," Ma said. "I'll be pushin' Bridget right up after ye."
"Are we sinkin'?" Bridget whined.
Ma gave her a boost. "I don't know, but I'd rather find out on the top deck than down here."
I turned to grab Bridget's hand. It was easy to keep track of Ma, because Joseph was howlin' like a banshee. We skidded down the narrow hallway packed in shoulder to shoulder with the other steerage passengers. The wall was tiltin' at a crazy angle, makin' it hard to sense which way was up. Were we really goin' to sink? Had we traveled all the way across the ocean only to be dumped like bilge into the harbor of New York?
"Stay together," Ma shouted. I could hear Maureen ahead of me with the big suitcase soundin' like a gong as it kept bumpin' the metal walls. If we had to jump overboard, I hoped she'd be sensible enough to leave it. Lord knows, there was little of any value in our belongin's. Certainly nothin' worth being anchored to the bottom of the harbor for.
There was a throng pushin' and shovin' at the last stairwell. "Margaret Rose, I'm frightened," Bridget wailed. I gathered her up in my arms, then shifted her to one hip so I could grab the iron railin' to keep my balance. When we finally came up out of steerage into the fresh air, I could hear the captain shoutin' over a bullhorn, "All passengers please move to the center of the boat."
There was no doubt that the deck was tilted, but I couldn't see that we were takin' on any water. The lifeboats hung in their places. The crew had made no move to load them. All of the passengers crowded together on the low side of the deck.
That's when I realized what the problem had been. We were just passin' the Statue of Liberty, and everyone had rushed to that side of the boat to see her.
The captain pleaded with the crowd again. "Ladies, gentlemen, please. Move away from the rail to the center." But nobody moved a muscle.
Ignorin' Ma's order to stay together, I put Bridget down, held tight to her hand, and pushed through the crowd. I finally squeezed into a spot by the rail and brought her around in front of me, where she could see through the iron mesh. I was afraid to lift her above the rail for fear I'd drop her overboard in my excitement.
There stood Lady Liberty, more beautiful than ever she'd appeared in the black-and-white pictures I'd seen. She was a lovely soft green in color, and the rosy sun gave a blush to her cheeks. I couldn't believe how big she was. She towered over the harbor like a giantess who had waded in from the ocean. The ship grew strangely silent. I saw tears in the eyes of the man next to me. It was February 18, 1911, the date that would mark the start of my new life.
My heart swelled with hope and fear at the same time. I had the feelin' that I was brought to America for a purpose. Somethin' important would happen to me here.
I remembered the words of the poem, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ..." Well, we were poor, all right, and after two weeks crammed into the bottom of a boat with Joseph screamin' his fool head off, we certainly qualified as tired, huddled masses.
"Here we are, America," I whispered. "We're just exactly what ye ordered."CHAPTER 2
Once we passed the Statue of Liberty, I tried to look for Da and Ma, but they were lost in a sea of hats. Poor Bridget was cryin' because she only came up to the belt buckles of most of the men. I was afraid she'd be trampled, so I lifted her on my hip, even though it made it harder to push through the people with the cumbersome feather bed. It was Da who found us, just as the ship was slippin' into the pier. He took Bridget in his strong arms so she could see over the crowd.
There was an announcement. "All first- and second-class passengers, go to B Deck for inspection, then disembark here. Steerage passengers will disembark and immediately board the ferry to Ellis Island."
"Are we first-class, Da?" Bridget asked.
Da shook his head. "No. We go to Ellis Island."
"But ye always call us yer first-class beauties," Bridget insisted.
Da kissed her cheek. "That ye are, lass, but the steamship company counts only the price of yer ticket. Someday, when we go back to visit Ireland, we'll travel first-class. After we've made our fortune in America."
I kept that in mind as we watched the fancy folks get off at the pier. We were herded like cattle onto the ferryboat, our feet touchin' America only for the time it took to walk from the ship's gangplank to the one leadin' to the ferry. Then it was off into the harbor again, this time headin' for a destination we feared.
We had heard many tales of Ellis Island — the place where the immigration officials decided whether or not ye were fit to enter America's gates. A person could be turned away for all sorts of things, especially sickness. I was thankful for the fact that we were healthy. Da always said, "We may be poor, but we have our health." Good health would be worth more than gold on Ellis Island.
I looked around at some of the other immigrants. One woman, pale as a ghost, held a sickly baby who seemed to struggle for each breath. I felt sorry for them. Surely they wouldn't make it past the medical inspection. There was a young man with a rackin' cough who didn't seem destined to become an American, either. I edged away from them. I wouldn't want to catch somethin' now that might keep me from gettin' into America.
Soon we could see Ellis Island up ahead. It looked like a confection, with its four domed turrets and dozens of arched windows edged with cream-colored bricks. It was hard to imagine that this pretty place could hold such terrible disappointment for some of the people on board with us.
We had a long time to worry about Ellis Island. There were two ferryboats steamin' ahead of us, and they landed first. We had to wait until all of their passengers were unloaded. It was two hours before we could set foot on land again. I spent the whole time avoidin' people who looked like they might be sick. There was no heat on the ferry, and a cold February wind blew across the water. By the time they let us off, my throat was already feelin' sore.
Finally, it was our turn. "Step lively, children," Da said. "Margaret Rose, mind ye keep a tight hold on Bridget. I don't want anyone gettin' lost."
The thought of losin' the family gave me a chill. I'd never seen so many people at once. I gripped Bridget's hand so tight she let out a yelp. Da took the feather bed to carry along with the trunk, so I grabbed the hem of his jacket with my other hand. I knew he wouldn't let anything happen to us.
We were given numbered tags and split into long lines. They separated the men from the women, then the women with small children. Joseph and Bridget went with Ma.
"How will we find each other again?" I asked, not wantin' to let go of Da.
"Just don't be losin' yer tag, whatever ye do," Da said. Maureen and I clung to each other as we moved forward in line.
"I'm scared," she whispered.
"Don't be a ninny," I said, tryin' to look brave, hopin' my tremblin' lower lip didn't give me away.
"There are so many people."
"There'll be even more when we get into New York, so get used to it."
When we neared the front of the line, an official-lookin' woman in a uniform came up to me. "Take down the top of your dress so the doctor can have a listen to your chest."
"But I've nothin' underneath," Maureen whispered. I was glad I wore a chemise under mine. I slipped out of my coat and dress top and held them around me until it was my turn.
The woman doctor was thin-lipped and stern. "Take a deep breath." The listenin' contraption was still warm from the last person. I tried to breathe as quietly as possible. What could she hear? Was there some little sound in my chest that could give me away as unhealthy and send me back to Ireland?
"A deep breath," she repeated.
This time, I obeyed. She listened, nodded, and waved me on ahead. I was poked and prodded by several more women, then allowed to button up my dress. I thought the worst was over, until I went into the last line. A man in a uniform told me to hold still. Then he pulled up my eyelid with a buttonhook. It happened so quickly I didn't have time to cry out. But the second eye was worse, because I knew what to expect. I jerked my head back when I saw the hook comin'.
"You're just making this harder on yourself, girl," the examiner said, "and you're holding up the line."
"I'm sorry," I mumbled. I folded my arms tight around myself and tilted my head back obediently. He got a good grip on my lower lashes so I couldn't pull away. The hook hurt even more this time. When it was over, I emerged half stunned into the huge registry room.
"We have to find Ma and Da," I said, but Maureen wasn't there. Then I saw that she had moved several people behind in the line for the buttonhook examination. I shivered and turned away. That's when I saw Da sittin' on a bench. I ran to him. "Da, they just did the most terrible thing to me."
Da nodded. "The eye exam? 'Twas nasty, wasn't it? Patrick told me about it in a letter."
"Ye knew and ye didn't tell us?"
"Ah, so ye'd rather have worried about that exam comin' all the way across the ocean?"
"No, I guess not." I rubbed my eyes, where I could still feel the buttonhook. "But why do they do that?"
Da shrugged. "It's some disease they test for."
"But why don't they just tell ye to keep yer eyes open so they can look? I would gladly have done that. There was no need for the hook."
"Stop dwellin' on it, Margaret Rose. Just thank the good Lord ye passed. There's where ye'll be goin'." He pointed to a huge half-circle window that reached all the way to the two-story ceiling. At first I thought it was a picture in a frame, but then I realized I was lookin' for the first time at the great city of New York.
"Yer husband is waitin' for ye in that city," Da said, grinnin'.
I felt my face go red. "I'm a long way from lookin' for a husband, Da."
"Don't be so sure, Margaret Rose. There are more good Irish lads in the city of New York than in Dublin and Limerick put together."
I wasn't about to argue with Da, but I had no plans to marry at sixteen. A whole new world was stretchin' out before me, and I wanted a chance to savor it before I was weighed down with babies like Ma. She had had me when she was only seventeen. If we had stayed in Ireland, that would have been my fate, but I hoped there was somethin' else for me in America — somethin' more than bein' a wife and mother right away.
I looked up to see Ma comin' toward us with Bridget clingin' to her skirt and Joseph in her arms. He was thrashin' his head about and screamin' bloody murder. A man in uniform was with them.
Da stood up. "What's wrong?"
"You'll have to come with me, sir. I'm taking you to another room, where you can make arrangements."
Excerpted from Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch. Copyright © 2002 Mary Jane Auch. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My 13 yr. old granddaughter read this book in school as part of her class. She loves to read and to write. She asked me if I ever heard of this horrible fire. Yes I was taught about it as a young lady too. She told me how well the book was written and that it flowed. She couldn't put it down. I purchased the book and found that she was correct. It is well written and shows what immigrants went through from the time they left their country to come to a better life in America. It takes place in 1911 and was researched very well. A fictional story through the eyes of a very young Irish girl who grew up over night and survived what most did not. By reading it also we were able to discuss the problems back then with sweat shops, the lack of rights etc. We were able to sit down and talk about today's immigration problems, the sweat shops overseas and how our ancestors worked hard for a place in America and why we disagree with the situations that exist in today's world. I think every parent should read this book and with their children of age. It is a true read that promotes conversation on unions of the past and why they were formed etc. It promotes conversation over video games etc. This little book gave us both memories. Highly recommend. Thank you.
Rose immigrates from Ireland with her family, who all must return to Ireland except her younger sister. Thus Rose, the teenager, must make it on her own in an unknown land where relatives are not welcoming. A good fictional look at the poverty and struggles of the Irish in their early years in the U.S.,focusing on the deplorable conditions of workers in large, unsafe, sweatshops. The horrors of the 1911 fire are most real as seen through Rose's eyes. This book will hold your attention throughout.
I read this book when I was 11 and loved it. It's about this immigrant girl making a life for herself in the new world. Through ups and downs, including a fire at the factory she works at, she learns what she needs to do. Being a strong woman, she perserveres.
This book is mainly for children ages 12+, but is okay for 11 year olds. (I was freaked out at the end. If you don't like sad books, don't read this one.)
I cried so much in this book. I've read it three times now and I love it every time. The issue is sad, but the story is wonderful, inspiring, and it captures your attention. You want to help Rose and you cry for her. I LOVE this book!
This work of historical fiction is aimed at the middle grades. Follow Rose as she emigrates from Ireland and ends up working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. This novel portrays the struggles faced by immigrants in the early twentieth century.
I had to read this book for History, and I thought 'Oh, this is goind to be boring.' But instead I open the book and find an interesting story waiting in the pages. The telling of the crisis, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York is so creative, through a young Irish immigrant girl, and the tale of her working at the Factory.
This is one of my favorite books ever! It was well written, and always interesting. The plot was never expected, it kept me guessing. There is not a boring page in this book.
I found this book to be quite enjoyable. Originally I was a bit hesitant to reading it, but when I actually sat down and read it, it was an enjoyable read. I would suggest reading this if it seems even the least bit interesting.
B&N are not letting people post reviews not even normal ones i am in a rebellion to stop them if you want to join put a capital y next to your name if you dont then put a capital n also i dont care if you dont believe me
Is today. Also, if you were a part of the pact clans tribe, come back! We are at tribe camp result 1!
The small white cat stayed near a tree, almost blending in with the snow.
I'm an elder.))
Pads in. 'Anyone wanna buy a sardine?'
Slept, exhusted and cold
Horseclan! At "James Dashner" result one!
How about last res? Btw sparklestar is locked out.
WhisperWillow pads out to see what the commotion was about. "What's going on?"
Move to the resulr titled 'the fire within' !
We moved camp to res 8 or 9
I may be locked out