Saturday, March 20, 2010
Ashes of Roses
In the spirit of the historical fiction research paper my students are writing, I chose to read a popular YA historical fiction title, Ashes of Roses. This novel, by Mary Jane Auch, is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, 1911. I hadn't researched the historical topic much before, but this novel provided decent inquiry into the details surrounding the event.
This YA novel could be applicable to students in grades six to eight. It centers around the story of a sixteen year old girl, but it still could be read and enjoyed by a male. I have found that more ladies in my classroom are reading it, but maybe other historical topics are more interesting to them than this one. I found it to be a decent read, but I must admit that I was a tad bit bored at times. I felt like I was waiting for the fire to happen, but it didn't take place until almost the last chapter of that novel. At least it was a good build up, making me wait and read further, anticipating the climax.
The story focuses on Rose Nolan, an Irish immigrant who comes to Ellis Island with her family. Her brother has to return back to Ireland with the baby they bring because he doesn't pass medical inspections. Rose, her sister, and her mother are left in New York City to fend for themselves. They shack up with Rose's father's brother who came over to the states years earlier and established himself with a political career. He lets them live in their small apartment which increases the tension between the wife and daughter living there.
The women become short with them and yell at them for taking up their space, eating their food, and essentially mooching. They act superior which angers Rose to no end. As a result, Rose seeks a job so that they can live on their own. Rose starts to work making paper flowers, and the boss lets her take them home to work on them. Rose and her mother work on the flowers in the house. The women come home angry, saying that they have set up a sweatshop in the house and now the daughter will never be courted. A large fight ensues, and they decide to return to Ireland.
At the docks, Rose and Maureen, the sister, decide to remain in New York City while the mother wants to return home to her husband. New York City has proven to be too much trouble. Rose and Maureen promise to return to their uncle's, but once mother leaves, they go out into the world to start their own life without the pity and assistance of others.
Rose and Maureen try to live in countless apartments but are turned away because they are two young girls without jobs or a lot of money. But, they are accepted into one house because of a nice feminist girl named Gussie. Gussie is a union worker who sets them up with an apartment and jobs at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Gussie also helps Rose earn back the money she was owed from her old boss who tried to cheat Rose out of her money and take advantage of her sexually.
Now working at the Factory, Rose earns some money to live. She visits the Nickelodeon (the "moving pictures" center which plays black and white films) and makes new friends who like to hang out with boys (ooo!). Gussie tries to show her the horrid conditions of the factory--the tight working quarters, the little pay, the long hours, the rapid rise and fall of ranks of workers, etc. Rose just feels lucky to have a job and some money.
Then comes the fire. It happens really fast. The fire breaks out. Women crowd the doors to get downstairs but they are locked. Women jump out windows to escape. Some try to land on firefighters' nets, but they either miss or the nets are not suitable to catch them. Women are burning alive. It's horrible.
Rose escapes but searches to find her sister. Fortunately, she finds her sister after she climbed to the roof and was escorted over to the next building over the rooftops. They try to find Gussie, but Gussie is the casualty that they experience. Rose and her sister mourn the loss of Gussie. The end.
I thought it was kind of lame that they didn't kill either Rose or Maureen. There wasn't really that much loss suffered at the hands of the protagonist. Sure, they lost their friend, but to really feel the tragedy, one of them should have died. It seemed to much of a happy ending when the real event was traumatic. Making us lose one of the main characters would have better mirrored the emotions suffered that day. This seemed like an easy way out for the ending, but that's just me.
This is a YA title, but it did seem pretty simple. It was really a simple story without means for any analysis. It is more a means of retelling a historical event, which in that purpose, it serves its duty. I would recommend it to young readers, especially those who are interested in history, and I'm sure a lot of them would like it. Others would find it kind of boring, so the one recommending would have to gauge the reader to pass this book off to certain readers.
That's my take on Ashes for Roses. What do you think of it?