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Based on a True Story, BOOK REVIEWS, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers

UPRISING by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Uprising is  the story of the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City told through the lives of three girls in the building at the time of the fire. Bella is an Italian immigrant, Yetta from Russia and Jane is the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer.  By alternating among these three characters Haddix is able to weave a tale that is dense in emotion and action.

Told in flashback by a survivor of the fire on that fateful afternoon, Haddix’s prose vividly brings early twentieth-century New York to life from the first few pages.  The reader is thrown into the lives of newly arrived immigrants, overawed by new languages and people, angry and indignant at the abusive and dangerous conditions in the factory workplace and helpless in the face of such overwhelming injustice.

The novel is a terrific historical account of women’s rights, societal attitudes toward women in the not-too-distant past (across many cultures) and the roles women played in the manufacturing economy of the early twentieth century.  More than that, young and old readers alike will be captivated by the efforts of these three young women to determine who they will be as individuals, how they will contribute to and participate in society and what legacy they will leave behind them when they are gone.

Haddix makes a point in her afterword that the issues with which Bella and Yetta and Jane choose to struggle and confront are not really so different than those we must look at today.  There exists today a wide gap between the rich and the poor, there exist so many more walls between differences of race, religion, gender, etc. rather than bridges and the question of self-preservation versus selflessness can–and inevitably will–arise in each of our lives when we least expect it.  It is in these moments that we each discover our own character.

Haddix speaks about standing on the roof of the building where the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened in 1911, for the building still stands.  She says “it was very eerie” to look from that rooftop to where the Twin Towers stood only a decade ago.  She says “At that moment, the Triangle fire didn’t seem very long ago at all.”

I recommend this book as an excellent window into American history, women’s rights, early union and strike formation and as a profound example of the power of both an individual and a small group of individuals within our society.  It’s a great book for raising questions and generating discussions in the classroom or the home.  I know this is a story that will resonate in my heart for some time even now that I have finished reading it.



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