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Threads and Flames Hardcover – November 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6–9—Raisa, a 13-year-old Jewish girl, leaves a Polish shtetl to journey to America to join her sister, Henda, who has mistakenly been told that Raisa is dead. The crossing to America, the frightening chaos of arrival, poor working conditions, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 form the novel's framework. Raisa makes some close friends on the ship and she takes responsibility for Brina, a child whose mother dies during the crossing. Raisa's overwhelming loneliness as she tries to adjust and find her sister permeates the story. The frustration she feels and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of succeeding spills dramatically from the pages despite some contrived twists and turns. When Raisa seeks some rest by entering a synagogue, she meets Gavrel Kamensy, an aspiring rabbinal student just a few years her senior. He brings her home and she and Brina become boarders with his family. The Kamensys' warmth and accepting nature allow Raisa the chance to look for work and begin her English studies. She feels lucky to get a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but the drudgery and unfair working conditions repeatedly foreshadow the horrendous event to follow. Gruesome details of workers jumping from the window in order to escape the pervasive flames are horrific. Scores die, many are physically injured, and still others, like Gavrel, suffer mentally. Anguish and frustration of looking for survivors and identifying the dead seem hopeless, but Raisa remains brave and focused. This would be a fine companion to Margaret Peterson Haddix's Uprising (S & S, 2007) and Mary Jane Auch's Ashes of Roses (Holt, 2002).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
(c) Copyright 2011.  Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

What would become of the little birds if their mama did not push them out of the nest? Glukel reassures Raisa, who makes the daunting decision to leave her Polish shtetl for America and try to join her sister, Henda. Leaving the nest means setting out on a grueling overseas voyage, facing fear of rejection at Ellis Island, and embarking on a desperate search for shelter and work. Adding to the challenge, Raisa takes over the care of a small child whose mother died on the ship—and Henda seems nowhere to be found. Friesner’s sparkling prose makes the immigrant experience in New York’s Lower East Side come alive: from working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and attending night school to becoming part of a close-knit community with hope for the future. The devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire tragedy resonates heartbreakingly, and although the happy ending is contrived, readers will turn the pages with rapt attention to follow the characters’ intrepid, risk-all adventures in building new lives. Grades 6-10. --Anne O'Malley
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 840L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (November 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670012459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670012459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Tanenbaum VINE VOICE on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, one of the most important events in American labor history. This anniversary makes the release of Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner particularly timely.

Friesner's novel opens in 1910, with thirteen-year old Raisa, recently recuperated from typhus, leaving her Polish shtetl to meet up with her sister Henda in America. After a long and difficult journey by cart, train, and ship, Raisa finally arrives in New York, only to learn that her sister has disappeared. With no job, no family, nowhere to live and unable to speak English, she seeks refuge in a synagogue, where she meets a kind young rabbinical student, Gavrel, whose mother just happens to have room for boarders. Soon Gavrel helps Raisa get a job where he works, at the very modern Triangle Shirtwaist factory in the Asch building. In addition to working long hours at the factory, Raisa goes to evening English classes where she dreams of becoming a teacher. She still hopes to find her sister, but how to do so in such a huge city? In telling Raisa's story, Friesner paints a rich picture of Jewish immigrant life at the turn of the century; we can almost smell the food at the markets and see the celebrations for the different Jewish holidays.

But Raisa's life changes forever on a March afternoon, when fire breaks out on the 8th floor of the Triangle factory. Hundreds of desperate workers tried to get out, but the doors on the stairway that could have provided a safe exit were locked--locked because the owners were afraid the young girls who worked at the factory would steal. Some, like Raisa, escape on the elevator, running outside only to see the horrific sight of bodies plunging through the air, with their clothes and hair on fire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lawral Wornek on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I think the best thing about Threads and Flames is that Friesner provides oodles of information and context without ever making me feel that I'm reading a book about the plight of immigrants or factory girls and how the injustices they faced lead to the tragedy of the Triangle fire. I was simply reading an engaging story about Raisa's new life in America, complete with a little bit of mystery, a little bit of (the cutest without being the least bit saccharine) romance, and a whole lot of my-gumption-is-both-my-greatest-flaw-and-my-greatest-strength. And yet I finished the book knowing a lot about how the ill-treatment of immigrants in general and factory girls in particular created the perfect storm of awfulness that caused so many deaths in the fire.

While the book is undoubtedly about the Triangle fire, Raisa doesn't even start working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory until at least halfway through the book, maybe more. Usually, this delay of the "point" of the story would drive me batty, but in this instance, I didn't mind the wait. Raisa is such a fun character; she's so headstrong and determined to do what is right for her sisters, both Henda and Brina. It never occurs to her that she shouldn't take responsibility for Brina, even though she can barely take care of herself. I was rooting for her before she even got to Ellis Island. Raisa's little romance with Gavrel is also handled beautifully. When you're reading about Raisa who is on her own and working more than full time to make enough money to cover room and board for two people, it's easy to forget how young she is. Her relationship with Gavrel, however, with all of Raisa's do I or don't I feelings, constantly reminded me that she's just in her early teens.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bookworm1858 VINE VOICE on May 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
Viking, 2010
386 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

This book was a great historical fiction novel with its main conflict coming from the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911 where the main character Raisa and most of her friends work. But that doesn't occur until near the end of the book.

Raisa just managed to survive typhus in her Polish shtetl before she embarks on a journey to America to meet her older sister Henda who has lived there for the past four years. On the boat, she befriends Zusa, a young woman about her age, and begins to take care of little Brina whose mother dies on the ship. Upon arrival, she begins to search for Henda. Unfortunately Henda had received a letter informing her of Raisa's death and is thus nowhere to be found. Luckily for Raisa, though, she finds a good room to let and soon starts earning money. Eventually all of the main young characters end up working for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory leading to the fire that devastates a community and highlights the inequities of the American economic system.

Raisa was a very brave girl; she turns fourteen on the ship over but she acts much more maturely than me and I'm twenty-one. She takes on the responsibility of caring for Brina and she works tirelessly to master sewing with a machine as well as learning English. Of course, she also gets to have fun with her friends Zusa, Italian immigrant Luciana, and dreamy Gavrel, the son of her landlords.

The historical details were fantastic! Although this is not my time period, I felt very immersed in the world described.
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