Publisher's Note:  

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and the disaster, which brought attention to the labor movement in America, is part of the curriculum in classrooms throughout the country.

Told from alternating points of view, this historical novel draws upon the experiences of three very different young women: Bella, who has just emigrated from Italy and doesn't speak a word of English; Yetta, a Russian immigrant and crusader for labor rights; and Jane, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Bella and Yetta work together at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory under terrible conditions--their pay is docked for even the slightest mistake, the bosses turn the clocks back so closing time is delayed, and they are locked into the factory all day, only to be frisked before they leave at night to make sure they haven't stolen any shirtwaists. When the situation worsens, Yetta leads the factory's effort to strike, and she meets Jane on the picket line. Jane, who feels trapped by the limits of her own sheltered existence, joins a group of high-society women who have taken an interest in the strike as a way of supporting women's suffrage. Through a series of twists and turns, the three girls become fast friends--and all of them are in the Triangle Shirtwast Factory on March 25, 1911, the day of the fateful fire. In a novel that puts a human face on the tragedy, Margaret Peterson Haddix has created a sweeping, forceful tale that will have readers guessing until the last page who--if anyone--survives.


by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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Overall Review:  

    Based on extensive research, this novel chronicles the shirtwaist workers' strike of 1909 and 1910 and the devastating fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that occurred over 100 years ago, "the worst workplace disaster in New York City. . . until September 11, 2001."
    The story follows the lives of three young women who are all at the factory on the fateful day: Bella, the new immigrant from Italy—who becomes an unwitting scab during the strike; Yetta, a Jew from Russia and one of the picketers at the factory; and Jane, a wealthy young woman who sees the striking workers as having lives of purpose and value.
    The novel also mentions the socialists who are involved in the strike, the suffragists who take up the cause of the factory workers, and it describes the attack on the picketers by prostitutes hired by the factory owners.
    The pace of the book is steady, but the reader knows the fire is coming, so that awareness helps keep the reader’s interest. Haddix also livens the story by switching focus from Bella to Yetta to Jane. At page 271 when the fire starts, to page 315, the story races along, presenting a powerful and moving description of the tragedy and heroism of that day. Reading Level: 5.3, range 3.3-7.2.
Of interest to girls


This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:  

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

6 G*d, J*s*s

Survivor thinks of "charred flesh and spilled blood"; men knock worker’s glasses off, rip shirt, slap him, and carry him out of room (described twice); mention of "city in flames" in Russia; Jane thinks servant should spill pot of tea on her mistress; guard at factory "jerks [Bella] away" from locked exit, grabs her away from fire escape, pulls her to guard who checks girls for stolen goods; cousin "kidnapped" by boss to work out of state; man screams threats at factory workers; prostitutes attack picketers, hitting, punching, kicking, pulling hair, Yetta stabbed with hatpin, shoved down; policemen arrest and handcuff picketers; policeman threatens to hit Yetta with club; picketer grabs at Bella, policeman clubs Yetta on head, arrests her, threatens to beat Bella and boy when they try to intervene; Yetta has back ache and "bruises on top of bruises" from beatings from police; men booed and threw rotten tomatoes at rally; Jane watches police beat and arrest strikers; Bella runs out in street, hit by car; throws boy away from her, he hits head on wall; mention of pogroms in Russia—sister saw houses set on fire, "Jews beaten to death," thrown out of windows and killed, girl burned alive, has nightmares about what she saw. Jane elbows and kicks her way through crowd; Jane’s father’s hired strikebreakers to fight strikers, Jane imagines them hitting strikers, strikers falling down; factory owner’s girls will grow up and learn father hired prostitutes and policemen to "beat up innocent girls"; girls joke about men dueling for Bella’s hand. Detailed description of fire, including woman’s hair catching fire, her falling through window, foreman slapping hysterical girls, urging them towards exits, fire escape falls from building with girls on it trying to escape, not graphic; Yetta slaps dazed foreman to get him moving; Yetta and cutter jump from ledge, trying to catch ladder, fall into firemen’s net but break through it and die; Jane and others die in front of elevator doors; mention of other tragic fires with higher death tolls. In Author’s Note: "about two dozen people" died when fire escape collapsed; "62 people died hitting the ground"; mention of recent factory fire where doors were locked.

Bella imagines kissing cousin, not graphic; guard who checks for stolen goods sometimes pats down girls’ blouses and skirts, puts hands on Bella’s sleeves, reaches for her breasts—Bella pulls away, feels shame at "being groped," decides not to tell cousin, afraid he’ll think she’s "damaged goods"; suggestion that cousin "two-timing" Bella—not true, they’re not involved; male boarder whispers "something crude and nasty" about her to landlady, implies she wants to go away with men, not true; boarder leers at Bella twice and "tries to touch her"; mention of a girl’s role to "birth babies," mention that girl will likely marry and have babies; Jane taught to use "tasteful décolletage" to win wealthy husband; mention of mother "suckling a baby." Mention of women of ill repute; women with dresses slit up the sides, plunging necklines front and back are prostitutes, hired to attack picketers; later called ladies of the evening, streetwalkers, mention that they "sell their bodies,"; owners and police imply strikers are as unclean as prostitutes; bum leers at Jane; Bella heard stories of white slavery on boat to America; married sister becomes pregnant; Bella imagines final kiss in a story; girl overly concerned about people looking up her skirt; Bella pulls skirt over her head in fire, doesn’t care that it’s immodest.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Prostitutes, strikes, death

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Men smoke cigarettes and cigars, accepted; mention of man having too much to drink; bum on the street takes swig from bottle; landlady claims cousin used Bella’s money to go out drinking—not true; Jane puts laudanum in companion’s tea to make sure she sleeps. 

Reviewed By CleanTeenReads
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