“THREAD AND FLAMES,” by Esther Friesner, Viking, $17.99 (ages 12 and up)
When it comes to historical fiction, books seem to fall into one of two categories: good or bad. There are just so many things that can go wrong while weaving facts with imagined material.
“Thread and Flames,” by Esther Friesner falls into the “good” category, where history serves as the backdrop to a compelling story that could have played out during that time.
Raisa misses her sister, Henda, fiercely. Henda has immigrated to America and is saving money to bring her sister there, too.
Finally, after recovering from typhus, 13-year-old Raisa leaves the small Polish shtetl where she’s always lived and travels to New York City. But when Raisa arrives, her sister isn’t there waiting for her. Henda has disappeared, and worse, she thinks the typhus took her sister.
Alone, with no money, Raisa is befriended by the handsome Gavrel, a student at a synagogue. With his help, and that of some other friends, Raisa finds work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists.
Things are finally starting to look up for Riasa. Even though she hasn’t found her sister, she has a place to live and people who care about her — some who care an awful lot.
On March 25, 1911, everything changes. A spark ignites the factory and a tragedy unfolds.
One hundred and forty-six women workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Many were asphyxiated and others jumped to their deaths from windows on the burning upper-story floors.
The factory owners had kept the doors locked, funneling workers through one exit so they could be checked for stolen items when leaving work for the day.
There was mass chaos following the fire, with onlookers gawking as workers, family members and residents gathered to identify bodies.
It was one of the worst factory disasters to date.
The fire is only a small part of Friesner’s book. But she makes the characters so real, so compelling that when the fire happens, your heart can’t help but ache for them.
Parts of “Threads and Flames” are horrifying, not in how things are related, but in they actually happened. One can’t help but feel like they are in the factory with Raisa, the flames licking at cloth and smoke smothering the frantic women trying to escape.
The only part that didn’t come together for me was thread between Raisa and Henda. The end resolution felt too contrived and too easy.
Apart from that, however, “Threads and Flames” is a fantastic read for young adults and adults alike.
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