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: So Far From Home, The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl (Lowell, Massachusetts 1847) by Barry Denenberg

sofarMary travels from Ireland to the U.S. to work in a mill so that she can earn money to send to her family at home. This book is very rich with imagery; it is very easy for one to picture the craggy shores of Ireland and the bustling streets of Lowell, MA while reading. In the States, Mary finds her sister, who is now a wealthy woman’s personal maid and wants nothing to do with Mary. Mary then gets a job at a mill where women are forced to work day and night under unfair and very dangerous conditions. (In once gruesome scene, a woman’s hair gets caught in one of the machines… you can imagine the rest.) She makes friends and enemies, tries her best to keep her integrity, and does her best in the workplace. The book ends, however, unexpectedly with no warning or closure. The ensuing epilogue is also…a bit of a letdown. A good book in the series, though not the best.