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Threads and Flames / by Esther Freisner

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Title: Threads and Flames 
Author: Esther Friesner

Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0-670-01245-9
Year: 2010

Concepts: working conditions, unions, immigration, social justice, wages, producers

Review: As a fourteen-year-old immigrant from Poland, Raisa had come to New York City hoping to find her older sister Henda, who had left for the golden land of opportunity a few years earlier in search of a new life. With little success in locating Henda or word of her whereabouts, Raisa desperately needed a place to stay and a means of supporting herself. Neither objective proved easy at a time when people who took boarders wanted to see evidence of employment, while the slow season in the garment industry translated into no new jobs.

Persistent and hopeful, Raisa ultimately found lodging with a gracious Jewish family, and employment as a seamstress in a garment sweatshop. The terrible working conditions, however, included long hours, harassment, low pay, and unfair penalties. Raisa was elated to find a new job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which had relatively better hours and pay. She could not have known that she would become one of the workers trapped inside the factory during the terrible 1911 fire that would claim the lives of almost 150 workers and help instigate new legislation to improve working conditions in U.S. factories.

This compelling novel does a nice job in setting an enjoyable plot and well-developed characters against a tragic historical backdrop. Without adequate labor regulations, employers in the U.S. textile and garment industry at the turn of the twentieth century did little to safeguard the well-being of their workers, with conditions generally worse for women, children, and immigrants. The book should inspire readers to learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and how it marked a pivotal event in the history of U.S. industrial and labor relations.

Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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