The Lock­et: Sur­viv­ing the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fire

Suzanne Lieu­rance
  • Review
By – February 15, 2012
Grip­ping, graph­ic, grous­ing, and griev­ing through each page, this stun­ning YA his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is cer­tain­ly not for the faint heart­ed. Rape and fiery death vie with myr­i­ad his­tor­i­cal facts about immi­grant life on the Low­er East Side, the nascent gar­ment work­ers’ labor move­ment and the infa­mous Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Com­pa­ny. The plot moves straight for­ward­ly from intro­duc­tion of the pro­tag­o­nist fam­i­ly of pogrom scarred Russ­ian Jews through their cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal mores to their loss in the dis­as­trous 1911 fire. There is romance, dull and chaste, due to the novel’s nar­ra­tor, an elevenyear- old girl, observ­ing her eigh­teen-year-old sis­ter, but too young to real­ly get it. His­to­ry cre­ates the stronger dra­ma; the focus of the plot is the labor union. Jew­ish cus­toms are over-described because the book caters to a uni­ver­sal audi­ence unin­formed about Jew­ish reli­gious prac­tice, notably Shab­bat and sit­ting shiv­ah. The nov­el is a well writ­ten, quick read despite much his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion which edu­cates read­ers, sup­plies fore­bod­ing, sup­ports the fore­shad­ow­ing and iron­i­cal­ly sug­gests the avoid­abil­i­ty of the tragedy. The biggest ques­tion is will it have an audi­ence? The pack­ag­ing of text­book like bind­ing and slick paper pages make the vol­ume appear to be non­fic­tion despite the roman­tic dan­ger sug­gest­ed by the cov­er art. Enslow Pub­lish­ers, known for gen­er­al non-fic­tion titles, has start­ed this new series with three Amer­i­can-relat­ed, fic­tion­al sto­ries set in dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal set­tings. The authors pro­vide a very use­ful fea­ture called, The Real Sto­ry Behind the Sto­ry” at the end of the book, which should pro­mote fur­ther read­ing on the sub­ject. Mid­dle school read­ers, old­er than the nar­ra­tor, but younger than the vic­tim, will like this sad adven­ture if they can get past the pack­ag­ing. Ages 11 – 14.

Book Trail­er

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions