(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Until 9/11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire had the dubious distinction of being the worst workplace disaster in New York City's history. And yet, I knew little about it. Uprising, Margaret Peterson Haddix's excellent novel about the incident, changed that. The affecting tale puts a very human face on the fire—its causes, its effects, and the disastrous toll it took on the city's most vulnerable citizens. It's a fascinating story based on horrifying true events.
Uprising features three very different young women: Bella Rossetti, a starry-eyed Italian immigrant whose dreams of a shiny new American life are quickly being shattered by the grimy reality; Yetta, a 14-year-old Jew from Russia, who attends union meetings in an attempt to create a better working environment for her and the other girls at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory; and Jane Wellington, a bored society girl who seeks illicit excitement at the front of the picket line, only to find herself sucked into a cause that will change her forever. The fates of the three intertwine in the days leading up to the tragedy.
On March 25, 1911, Bella, Yetta, and Jane are all inside the Asch Building when fire breaks out in its upper floors. Through their eyes, we see the panic that ensued. Workers, who were regularly locked inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to prevent theft, struggled to get out of the burning building. With bulky sewing equipment to dodge, one fire escape for the whole structure, and few other safety features, it was a death trap. The blaze spread rapidly, ultimately leading to the deaths of 146 terrified employees. In grim detail, Haddix brings these events to vivid life, creating a picture that will linger in readers' heads long after they finish Uprising. It's no wonder this preventable tragedy continues to haunt us—even 100 years later, the horror of it all is difficult to process. Haddix recounts it brilliantly in this mesmerizing, compelling tale featuring a trio of brave, resilient young women who symbolize the real people who suffered poverty, pain, and privation in pursuit of the American dream. If you're up for a gripping, very affecting historical novel, look no further than Uprising.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly and of A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence, sexual innuendo, vague references to prostitution, and scenes of peril
To the FTC, with love: Another library