Waiting on Wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: May 23, 2017

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 22 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

Book Review: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tomorrow, March 25, 2016, marks the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Disaster.  

This fire killed 145 workers, most of them immigrant women who worked around 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for only $15.00. 

When the women protested these working conditions, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory hired police to imprison those who were striking.

The doors were locked to the stairwells, only one elevator was working, and there were no safety precautions taken (i.e. the installation of sprinkler systems, etc). 

It is important to remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Disaster as it caused the reform of worker’s rights and was directly connected to the Women’s Suffrage movement in New York.

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the disaster, which brought attention to the labor movement in America, is part of the curriculum in classrooms throughout the country.

Told from alternating points of view, this historical novel draws upon the experiences of three very different young women: Bella, who has just emigrated from Italy and doesn’t speak a word of English; Yetta, a Russian immigrant and crusader for labor rights; and Jane, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Bella and Yetta work together at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory under terrible conditions–their pay is docked for even the slightest mistake, the bosses turn the clocks back so closing time is delayed, and they are locked into the factory all day, only to be frisked before they leave at night to make sure they haven’t stolen any shirtwaists. When the situation worsens, Yetta leads the factory’s effort to strike, and she meets Jane on the picket line. Jane, who feels trapped by the limits of her own sheltered existence, joins a group of high-society women who have taken an interest in the strike as a way of supporting women’s suffrage. Through a series of twists and turns, the three girls become fast friends–and all of them are in the Triangle Shirtwast Factory on March 25, 1911, the day of the fateful fire.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put a finger on why the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire has stuck with me ever since I learned about it back in high school history.  I’ve always had a big fear of fire, which could be part of it, but I’d like to say it’s because the lives lost there changed so many things in history.  But maybe it was because I could identify with the historical accounts of the lives lost; teenage women, the age I was when I first learned about the disaster, who had to work ruthless hours for little pay in a booming industrial age of America, women who were locked in a building to prevent any unapproved breaks and stealing.  While we learned about the Shirtwaist Strike as well, it was this disaster that really gave the strike arguments more power and recognition.  Some of those battles we still fight today (i.e. Gender and Race wage gaps).  Either way, suffice it to say that the Triangle fire is important.

Triangle-FireWhen I first learned there was a novelization of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, I was a bit skeptical.  How long could you conceivably make a novel that features a fire that burns so hot and quickly that it killed so many people in a short amount of time?  The fact that I have a big phobia of fire didn’t help my skepticism, because I was a little fearful of it causing some terrifying dreams.  I could not be more happy about reading this novel.

Haddix does a brilliant job at focusing on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory from the beginning of Uprising, as she focuses on the close working conditions, and within a few pages of the first narrator, Bella, recounting her first day at the Triangle factory, there is a number of workers that walk out exclaiming, “Strike!”  The narrative then goes into explicit detail of how these workers are exploited by being overworked, underpaid, and treated like third or fourth class citizens and how these women stood together and formed a large Garment workers Strike.

The two immigrant narrators, Yetta and Bella, are so well done as individual characters.  Bella’s voice is a bit weak and timid at the beginning, definitely befitting her character, but then grows continuously throughout the story into a character that is shown to really embrace her new life in America, no matter the hardships she has to endure.  Yetta is fierce, independent, and extremely stubborn.  Her narrative voice is so strong that it almost overshadows the other two characters for the majority of the novel, but I think that this was intentional and demonstrative on how fervent these women worked to establish a union and acceptable working conditions.  Both Bella and Yetta worked so hard for so little just so they could support themselves and their families, and it is inspiring to read about their determination.  The third narrator, Jane, I wasn’t expecting to like, because let’s face it, she seemed like a rich girl just looking to circumvent her father and get a little bit of attention, but she became much, much more than that.  Haddix does such an eloquent job at making these characters so realistic that I felt like I lost three friends when the story ended.

A large majority of the narrative focuses on the strike, implications of the strike, how strikes are formed, who funds the trianglefiredamagestrikes, the mistreatment of those on strike, and how a union can be formed.  That sounds utterly boring, right?  Wrong.  These parts of the story are so interwoven into the personal parts of the narrative that you don’t even realize that you are learning.  You learn that the socialist movement really helped a gain a lot of support for this strike, you see the positive and negative aspects of immigrants coming to America at the turn of the century, you find that there were those who survived New York winters without shoes, much less jackets.  You are put in the middle of the fire.

The story does build to its inevitable end, the fire on March 25, 1911.  I think that Haddix’s writing in the fire scenes is particularly eloquent for scenes where there is so much at stake.  I cried my eyes out.

5 Bards for Bella and Yetta and Jane and all those who lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

fivebards

 

 

 

For more information about the strike, fire, resulting trial, victims, etc please visit this link.

Book Review: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

Avery West’s newfound family can shut down Prada when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war. Part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle, they believe Avery is the key to an ancient prophecy. Some want to use her as a pawn. Some want her dead.

To unravel the mystery putting her life in danger, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the monuments of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul with two boys who work for the Circle—beautiful, volatile Stellan and mysterious, magnetic Jack. But as the clues expose a stunning conspiracy that might plunge the world into World War 3, she discovers that both boys are hiding secrets of their own. Now she will have to choose not only between freedom and family–but between the boy who might help her save the world, and the one she’s falling in love with.

Holy super fast moving plot, Batman!  Hall certainly wasn’t messing around when she started this novel, because in less than a few chapters the main character is already in a different country, sans passport, via a private plane, and is staying in a room in the Louvre museum in Paris.  Seriously, you’d think that brief summary would give away some of the plot, but the plot is so complex that my brief run on sentence barely scratches the surface.

As a self proclaimed history buff, I am a little embarassed to admit that I’d never really been too interested in Alexander the Great and his incestuous ways and so a lot of the lore underlying the plot for this novel was completely unknown to me.  The only thing that most readers will know going into the novel is that Alexander the Great died without an heir to the Roman Empire.  According to the lore that I looked up after finishing The Conspiracy of Us, a number of his valued generals were given the responsibility to maintain order and continue his legacy, called the Diadochoi. It is exceedingly interesting and I have to say how impressed I am with how unique this novel is because of Hall’s decision to use some part of history that is barely touched on in young adult literature.  Seriously, I cannot praise this novel enough for the completely original idea of the Circle, it is rare to find a novel now that doesn’t share at least a common idea with others. Kudos to you, Maggie Hall.

While I really enjoyed the fast moving plot, there are definitely a few drawbacks.  For instance, setting descriptions for places as gorgeous as Paris and Instanbul really suffered.  I think that sometimes, yes, there can be too many details, but I think that this was a story that would have benefitted from really spending time building a strong sense of setting and given more in depth descriptions of the Louvre and Notre Dame (especially for those of us that have never been!).

The second thing that really suffered was the character development.  Despite the fact that the novel is told in first person, the reader really learns very little about Avery and even less about her love interest, Jack.  Stellan, the other male character is even less fleshed out, even with the little reveal given toward the end of the novel.

I’m really hoping that the next installment really gives the characters the attention and growth they deserve.  I’d really like to see more “at stake” in the next novel as well, especially anything that could provide more credibility to the idea of this prophecy.

I’m torn on my bard rating, because I did enjoy the book but the slim setting and character development were drawbacks. Looking forward to the second book!

3.5 Bards

3.5bards

 

 

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