Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Threads and Flames - Esther Friesner

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on November 24, 2010
Published by Viking Juvenile
Pages: 390

It's 1910, and Raisa has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. She is enthralled, overwhelmed, and even frightened, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. How do you survive in a foreign land without a job, a place to live, or a command of the native language? 

Perseverance and the kindness of handsome young Gavrel lead Raisa to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists . . . until 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. Fabric and thread and life catch fire. And the flames burn not enough to change Raisa - and the entire city - forever.


This was an almost completely different take on the Shirtwaist Factory fire compared to Ashes of Roses. It was better in every respect. Where Rose was incapable of standing up for herself and only saw how coming to America had cut her family in half, Raisa is not at all afraid to look after herself, she's strong, and she does not at all have a victim attitude. She sees America as a place of opportunity, not a land of false promises, and she works hard to earn money and learn English and make a better place for herself in the world. Even when she finds herself in a sweatshop, she finds work elsewhere and tells her former boss good-day.

Esther Friesner, too, presents a fairer view on things. While the immigration process is anything but pleasant, she doesn't paint it as an utterly inhumane process, where every single immigration officer was callous and rude. There are helpful immigrant officials and there are unhelpful ones. Just as there are unfair foremen/forewomen at the factories, and there are fair ones. Working conditions in factories were often harsh and the employees were often cheated, that's true - and Esther Friesner depicts this. But she also wonderfully informs the Reader that not all factories were like that. And while in Ashes of Roses the Author tried to make it sound like the Shirtwaist Factory fire was maybe intentionally started by the owners - or the shirtwaist kings, - Esther Friesner makes it clear that the only way the fire was their fault was having an unsafe building in the first place. And it is true: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was not a safe working environment. It's amazing a fire did not occur sooner, but to make it seem like the factory owners started it on purpose? Their guilt lie in neglect, which is unforgiveable, especially when one looks at how many people died because of it. But that isn't the same as intentionally starting a fire.

All in all, I enjoyed Threads and Flames a lot more than Ashes of Roses. It was tremendously fun being able to compare the two, and even more amazing to see how much different and enjoyable a balanced story was compared to one that was so one-sided. Thumbs up to Esther Friesner!

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