Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch

Sixteen-year old Rose Nolan and her family arrive at Ellis Island from Ireland in 1911, ready to make a new life in New York. Things start to go awry right away, as her baby brother has trachoma, and is sent back to Ireland with her father. Rose, her mother, and her younger sister Maureen set out to their uncle’s only to discover that he has no idea that they’re coming, and his wealthy German wife objects strongly to their presence. When Rose’s mother decides to go back to Ireland, Rose talks her into letting the two girlssatay behind. Rose deals with sweatshops, and an abusive boss coming on to her, but things start looking up when she is befriended by her landlord’s daughter Gussie, a fierce young woman agitating for unionization. Rose finds a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, and all is going well, until the fateful fire that was a major force for labour laws at the turn of the century.

This starts out as just another American immigration story, but the politics and history of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire was different enough that I picked up the book. It then promptly took me a couple months to get to it, because you know, given the subject matter, it’s got turn grim and tragic in the end. However, that’s more of a reflection on me than the story. The tragedy was vividly, heart-breakingly described–though Rose was a bit wishy-washy in parts. What I really wanted was to know more about Gussie, who was a fascinating character. Good, solid historical fiction for kids wanting to step up from the Dear Canada series.


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