Debut author Romero’s historical young-adult novel features a homeless 13-year-old girl who finds shelter among New York City’s newsboys.
Elsie Lutz’s shares a room with her German immigrant father in a crowded turn-of-the-20th-century New York City tenement. But when her father is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, she finds herself without a home. Luckily, she meets street-smart newsboy Grin, who initiates her into his colorful crew and teaches her all about selling “papes.” Soon, the “newsie” gangs—Elsie with them—forgo their deadly rivalries to unite in a strike against the major papers. Elsie even manages to speak up at an important strike meeting. As rumors swirl about strike leaders betraying the movement, the two find themselves in danger—just as Elsie meets a young woman who might be able to help her father’s case. When the strike ends, success isn’t pure, although Elsie discovers a new inner strength and a good, loud voice. As Grin says, “Sometimes winnin’ doesn’t look the way we want it to.” Romero has chosen an exciting historical episode for her first novel. The premise—that uneducated, often homeless young newspaper sellers could put enough pressure on the likes of Hearst and Pulitzer to win a favorable settlement—is helped by Romero’s use of historical characters, like the one-eyed Kid Blink. Elsie makes a sympathetic heroine, both thoughtful and hard-headed. Yet the book includes a few anachronisms and suffers from an overly compressed timeframe: The strike begins soon after Elsie joins the gang, so the build-up about learning the ropes goes to waste; she gets almost no chance to actually sell papers. It’s hard to see why she’s popular enough to be invited to speak at an important meeting. Also, Elsie’s epiphanies seem unearned, especially when she explains that the voice she finds isn’t even hers: “A voice that was never my own, but was that of a newsboy with a wide sly grin.” Furthermore, the writing can be clumsy, particularly the newsboy dialect.
A brave young heroine amid a fascinating historical setting, but short on attention to detail.