Plucky Anetka is determined to thrive in her new life in an arranged marriage to a Pennsylvania coal miner. In spite of the fact that her husband doesn't love her, his three daughters still mourn their dead mother, and she has left behind everything she knows and loves in Poland, this 13-year-old redhead rolls up her sleeves and gets down to the backbreaking business of keeping house.
Working conditions in the mines are horrendous and the labor movement is rumbling; nearly every day, wives watch in frightened yet resigned anticipation as the Black Maria, the "death wagon," rattles down the street to the newest widow's door. When the Black Maria shows up at Anetka's shanty just a few months after her wedding, she must dig deeper into her reserves of strength to carry on. Luckily, a young man named Leon has been patiently waiting in the wings. Their relationship is sweetly immature--until the very end, she persists in trying to convince herself she can't stand him because he teases her.
The fact that there are no real surprises in Susan Campbell Bartoletti's historical novel will not detract from readers' enjoyment of the story. The emphasis is on the historically accurate descriptions of coal mines in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, during the late 1890s. An informative author's note, photographs, notes to a coal-mining song, and even a tantalizing recipe for potato dumplings round out this fascinating portrait of a grim time in history. As with the other titles in the immensely popular Dear America series, A Coal Miner's Bride is written in the form of a diary. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter
The history is dramatic: in 1896 Anetka Kaminska, 13, must leave her Polish village for an arranged marriage with a coal miner in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. Her husband, who was married once before, doesn't love her, and when he's killed in a mining accident a few months after the wedding, she's left to care for his three small daughters and take in boarders to survive. The appalling working conditions in the mines are an integral part of the story and so is the labor struggle for change. Always there's the racism by "Americans" toward the "undesirable foreigners," which culminates in the Lattimer Massacre in which 19 miners are killed. The lively young union organizer, Leon Nasevich, who proves to be Anetka's true love, is just too perfect, but their teasing relationship adds romance to the grim story. The real problem with this book is the format. There's no doubt that the diary entries from the young person's viewpoint make the story immediate and accessible; but it's totally ridiculous that Anetka, who works like a mule caring for the kids and the boarders, and who regrets that she can't find a minute to write a letter to her beloved grandmother in Poland, would keep a daily diary of her life. Bartoletti's long historical note authenticates the account of the immigration, the labor struggle, the massacre, and the role of strong women. And there's a selection of photos to reinforce the history. Hazel Rochman