A large section of period photos complements a partly fictional account of the 1911 New York City fire that killed 146 factory workers.
Recently arrived on the Lower East Side with her immigrant family, 15-year-old Cecelia Napoli becomes fast friends with Rose Mehl, a Jewish teen who lives in the tenement apartment below. When Cecelia’s father contracts tuberculosis and is sent to a sanatorium, not only does Rose help Cecelia find a job at the Triangle Waist Company, but she heroically comes to her aid in the vaguely described fire. A few thin slices of Lower East Side life and a cast largely composed, except for the Napolis, of historical figures (including Rose, one of the fire’s youngest victims) do little to bring this rudimentary plot to life. Moreover, along with a mistaken claim that the fire was the city’s worst disaster before 9/11 (that “honor” goes to the sinking of the General Slocum, 1904), the author’s afterword simply summarizes information readily available in encyclopedias and recent nonfiction accounts for young readers. The photos do present telling scenes of crowded tenements, city streets and the fire’s aftermath, but two images of newspaper pages (one in Italian) are illegible except for the headlines. Four pages of discussion questions are appended, but there are no reading lists or other leads to further sources of information or pictures.
A roughly stitched-up alternative to Deborah Hopkinson’s more developed and informative hybrid, Hear My Sorrow (2004). (index) (Historical fiction. 10-13)