genre: young adult historical fiction
I have a mild obsession with immigrant stories from the turn of the century, especially those where the immigrants lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so when the cover of this book caught my eye and I read the flap, I knew I wanted to try it.
Essie and her family have already had their share of heartbreak. When we meet her, her father has recently passed away and her mother is giving birth to a second sibling for Essie. This baby, born when Essie is 10, becomes the child of her heart and the impetus for much of what she does. The text goes back and forth between telling the story of the present and dairy entries of the past - so the book is like a puzzle, trying to figure out the tragic something that we're pretty sure happened to Essie at some point.
And in the present? Essie works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory - you know the one? Fascinating and miserable, so we get a picture of immigrant workers living on the edge, willing to grind themselves to the bone so they don't loose their place and the few pennies that come from their backbreaking work. You get a real sense of the frantic pace of that workplace, the constant fear. Not just that, but you get a real sense of the entire Lower East Side, the street vendors and fire escapes, the neighborhood interactions, tenement living and the struggle of living hand to mouth in a city that seems to pit itself against your best efforts. Add to that a mysterious girl recently hired at the shirtwaist factory and Essie's distinct impression that she doesn't quite belong -and you've got one wallop of a book.
Lost is such a fitting title - each person is characterized in some way by that one word, either they have lost a someone, lost their dignity, their purpose, or lost their ability to exercise their free will. Beautifully written and painfully real, the ending wrapped things up a bit nicely, but after all Essie'd been through, honestly, I just felt like she deserved it.
4 of 25 for the 2010 young adult challenge