Melanie Crow­der
  • Review
By – December 22, 2015

In Audac­i­ty, Melanie Crow­der tells Clara’s sto­ry, a sweep­ing tale that begins with a child­hood bat­tling pover­ty and anti-Semi­tism in the Pale of Set­tle­ment and ends with an ado­les­cence fight­ing for the rights of sweat­shop work­ers on the pick­et lines of New York City. 

Crowder’s auda­cious pro­tag­o­nist is based on Clara Lem­lich, a Russ­ian-Jew­ish girl who immi­grat­ed to New York at the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and devot­ed her­self to the labor fight after expe­ri­enc­ing the hor­rendous con­di­tions and sex­ism of New York’s sweat­shops. Lem­lich was one of the main lead­ers of the Upris­ing of the 20,000, which remains the largest strike by women in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Crow­der uses verse to tell this sto­ry; Audac­i­ty is bro­ken up into indi­vid­ual page-long poems. Although this some­times keeps the read­er from gain­ing a full sense of the time­line or details of the sto­ry, it ulti­mately allows the nov­el to move along quick­ly while touch­ing on all of Clara’s adven­tures and hardships. 

Clara is a tena­cious and nuanced char­ac­ter. She has an insa­tiable appetite for learn­ing, and teach­es her­self to read and write Russ­ian, Yid­dish, and Eng­lish. Brought up as the only girl in a very reli­gious fam­i­ly, she cob­bles to­gether her edu­ca­tion in secret. Clara strug­gles with the bal­ance between sup­port­ing her fam­i­ly, fight­ing for her dream of attend­ing col­lege, and work­ing tire­less­ly for the rights of immi­grant women work­ers across the city. As she says repeat­ed­ly in Crowder’s poems, I am not so good at being a good girl.” Crow­der seam­less­ly ties lessons on fem­i­nism and per­se­ver­ance into her swift-mov­ing poems. 

Audac­i­ty is an excit­ing new nov­el recom­mended for ages 12 and up. It should be not­ed that there are many vio­lent scenes in the book, includ­ing descrip­tions of pogroms in Europe and police bru­tal­i­ty on the pick­et lines. Crow­der has writ­ten a work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that brings read­ers into the mind of Clara as she observes the world around her with unflinch­ing hon­esty, empa­thy, and most of all, audacity. 
Hail­ing from Amherst, MA, Cha­va Lan­sky is a stu­dent at Barnard Col­lege, where she stud­ies Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and Dance, and interns for the Jew­ish Book Council.

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