cover image Audacity


Melanie Crowder. Philomel, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-16899-4

Crowder’s (Parched) use of free verse in this fictionalization of Russian-Jewish immigrant Clara Lemlich’s life brings a spare poignancy to a familiar history: a poor family’s flight from Russia following the 1903 pogrom, an arduous journey to Ellis Island, survival in the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side, and Clara’s grueling work in garment industry sweatshops. The only daughter in a strict Orthodox family, forbidden to learn Russian, read, or write, Clara secretly defies her father’s decrees, hungry for education and determined to become a doctor. As she endures horrific working conditions in America, her dream changes, and she becomes a tireless leader of the union movement. Fighting to organize the women workers, she is locked out of jobs, jailed, and beaten: “They do not speak/ but their message is/ painfully/ clear/ slap scratch/ punch pummel/ kick kick spit.” In addition to a closing note that provides context and biographical information, an endearing interview with Lemlich’s children and grandchildren gives a glimpse into how this stubborn and fiery young woman lived out the balance of her life. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Jan.)