Thursday, February 5, 2009

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Uprising. Simon and Schuster, 2007. 346 pp. Historical fiction.

Review by Lina

On March 25, 1911, a devastating fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City left 146 people dead, the majority of them young immigrant girls who were employed at the factory. In the years immediately preceding the fire, Triangle had been embroiled in a labor dispute that sent many of its workers out on strike in an attempt to unionize the shop. Among the strikers’ concerns were low wages, long hours, poor working conditions, and safety issues. Although Triangle and other companies eventually settled, violations continued. The fire encompassed three floors of the building and left many people trapped when stairwell doors were locked (the company’s way to ensure workers did not leave early) and the one fire escape proved to be defective. The tragedy of the Triangle fire lead to new safety regulations and enforcement of those regulations.

Uprising tells the story of two immigrant girls, Bella and Yetta, who worked at the factory and their friend Jane. Yetta, who came to New York from Russia with the plan to make enough money to send for her parents, is determined to improve working conditions at all costs, even her own happiness. She steadfastly pickets during the strike and is unhappy when the union settles for less than she wants. Able to see the whole picture, Yetta is also concerned about women’s rights and suffrage. She worries about safety conditions at Triangle. Bella, a poor girl from Italy who comes to the United States determined to send money home to support her widowed mother and younger siblings, is at a disadvantage not knowing English and being ignorant of the issues at hand. But she learns quickly and picks herself up following a family tragedy, determined to make a brighter future for herself. Jane is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, a socialite who yearns to go to college and do something important with her life. She leaves home to work as a governess and live in a tenement rather than be supported by her father’s money, money that she considers to be tainted and evil when she learns that in the past he had hired strikebreakers.

Uprising does a good job of telling the story of the famous Triangle fire as well as showing the working and social conditions prevalent at the time. Readers, particularly young readers, will find it hard to imagine living in the way that the girls did and not only surviving but thriving. Readers will assume they know which of the girls is the mysterious “Mrs. Livingston” first introduced in the beginning of the book but will be surprised when they learn her true identity. Recommended for age 12 and up.


Laura H said...

This is a great author. Check out some of her other books.

Dan S said...

I need to show this review to my daughter. She would love the historical look at our past as much as the interesting story of these three girls.

These sort of stories are so interesting, and when told well they awaken a strong interest in history and also in doing what is right.

For myself, it was stories such as this that got me interested in studying economics. When I taught, and even though I'm hardly radical in any way, I'd always try to show how events such as the ones in this book spurred a lot of economic thinking, and that there's actually a lot of passion and emotion hidden behind those dry and dull looking curves.

Thanks for this great review.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I love this author. I first read about this fire in a book called "Ashes of Roses," which was also amazing.

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