Book Review: Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker (New York City, 1909) by Deborah Hopkinson

hear-my-sorrow-2In this beautiful yet doleful tale, we follow Angela Denoto, a Sicilian-born teen at the turn-of-the-century in New York City. Although Angela is bright and the only member of her family who can read, as well as speak and write in English, her father’s physical condition requires her and her elder sister, Luisa, to work in his stead. As Angela begins her job at a shirtwaist factory, she experiences the awful, unfair, and even dangerous working conditions, including workers having to pay for their own needles and thread, their bosses prohibiting them from stopping and stretching or resting even after injury, seventy-two hour work weeks without overtime pay, dangerous fire and health hazards, and more.

Soon, Angela befriends fellow seamstress Sarah Goldstein, a “fiery” Jewish girl who is involved in the women’s labor union. Sarah soon coaxes Angela into various union activities and a strike, in order to fight for better working conditions for the women factory workers. Angela’s striking from work does not come without a high cost, however, as her family struggles without her pay. The author does a good job of describing both the miserable working conditions and the need for unionizing, as well as the girls’ and their families’ need to work to eat and survive, despite the terrible conditions. This book closes with the fatal events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, which, coupled with other significant deaths in this book, adds to its melancholy overtone.

A sad story devoid of really any cheer, and rather bare-bones at times in terms of character development, but poignant and emotional nonetheless.

Book Review: Dear America: West to a Land of Plenty, The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi (New York to Idaho Territory 1883) by Jim Murphy

west-to-a-land-of-plentyWhen I read the first page of this DA diary, I knew this one was going to be quite special. For one, it was written in (what I felt to be) a very realistic voice and style for a fourteen year old girl– complete with spelling errors and complaints about family, and how much she hates her little know-it-all sister. This book only got better, and had a lot of heart.

Teresa is the American-born child of an Italian immigrant family. They are fairly happy in their crowded New York City apartment, when her father and uncle, as well as many more on their street, are persuaded by the enthusiastic Mr. William Keil to relocate to Idaho Territory for the opportunity to own an expanse of land and make a better life for their families. Thus begins the Viscardi family’s venture out West, first via railroad and then on foot in a wagon train, pioneer-style. This is the only DA diary I have read (so far) that is in fact a shared diary, meaning there are entries from both Teresa and her precocious (and hilarious) little sister, Netta. On the journey, they are also accompanied by their– very memorable– feisty Sicilian grandmother. Teresa herself had more personality than most of the narrators in this series combined, which made this book a unique joy to read, on top of Netta’s entries being so entertaining as well. It also has some of the funniest quotations from characters I’ve encountered in this series– indeed, this is the first DA book at which I actually laughed out loud while reading. This book also has its share of tragedy as well, however; be prepared for a devastating major death.

The epilogue, I felt, was extremely realistic, which is what I like to read, and I was very surprised to discover, after finishing, that the author was male, for he spoke from a young female perspective quite well. Overall, a wonderful book in the series, and one of which I will always remain very fond.