Friday, June 17, 2011

Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch

Since this year was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, there have been a number of historical fiction accounts written in recent years leading up to the anniversary. I've already reviewed Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner and I will be reviewing at least one other teen novel on the Triangle fire in upcoming weeks.

Ashes of Roses opens with the Nolan family comprised of Da and Ma Nolan, Rose, Maureen, Bridget

and Joseph, arriving at Ellis Island. As with each immigrant who arrives, each of them must pass a physical examination in order to enter America. Unfortunately for the Nolans, their youngest child, Joseph does not pass because he has a contagious eye infection. It is decided that Da will return to Cork, Ireland with Joseph, while Ma and the girls will go on to stay with Da's brother Patrick in New York.

They soon find Patrick's apartment and learn that he has married a German woman Elsa who has two daughters. Although Patrick, now an established politician and prosperous, is welcoming, his family is not. After a series of run-ins with Elsa, Ma decides to return to Ireland. Maureen and Rose manage to convince their mother to allow them stay in New York.

Instead of returning to Patrick's home Rose and Maureen manage to find a room to rent with a Russian Jewish man, Mr. Garoff and his daughter Gussie. Gussie, it turns out is a great help to Rose. She helps Rose confront a dishonest employer and helps her find work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory so that she can support herself and her sister. Gussie is also a prominent union organizer and is involved with the Waistmakers Local 25.

Just as Rose and Maureen are getting settled into their new life, making friends and earning some money, they find themselves part of a great tragedy that would forever change the face of labor in America. Rose finds herself trapped on the ninth floor along with Gussie and her friends Rose Klein and Rose Bellini. With the doors locked and the lone elevator capable of only holding 15 people, there are few choices to escape the inferno.

Auch does an excellent job setting the scene for the actual tragedy and her detailed realistic description of the fire conveys both the terror of the victims and the pain and loss of the families of the 146 people who died in the fire.

The title, Ashes of Roses has several meanings. First it is the colour of the dress Rose wears to work on the day of the tragedy. During her escape from the Triangle building, she tears her dress and that piece of fabric shows up in the items used to identify the dead. Rose who goes to look for her sister and friends among the dead, is horrified to see a scrap of her dress. Secondly, one of the most common names of the young women who died in the tragedy was Rose. So the fire indeed contained the ashes of Roses, among others.

Told in the voice of 16 year old Rose Nolan, Ashes of Roses is a quick read for younger teens who love historical fiction.

Book Details:
Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch.
Laurel Leaf 2004
256 pp.

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