Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner

All her life Raisa has dreamed of leaving her small Polish shetl and following her older sister to that golden land, America. At only thirteen years old however in 1910, she isn't the best equipped for traveling half-way across the world, alone, to a country she's never stepped foot in before. But Raisa is determined to reunite with her sister and begins her perilous journey across Europe, the ocean, before finally landing in Ellis Island, New York. Everything is new and confusing to young Raisa who cannot read or write English (or even her own language) and who unexpectedly finds herself the caretaker of a young orphan toddler, Brina.

Neither does America turn out to be the paradise Raisa expected either. Having no idea how to contact her sister, Raisa knows she must find a place for her and Brina while also finding a job in the sprawling city. Her only options are at small sweatshops or factories in the garment district. Even the most coveted positions at these factories are still no picnic as quickly Raisa learns one fateful Sunday morning.

Esther Friesner took on a very ambitious project when she decided to bring Raisa's story of immigration to life in Threads and Flames. The sheer amount of trials Raisa faces would be enough to discourage even the most optimistic youth but Raisa doggedly keeps going, holding onto the hope that she will be able to find her sister, keep Brina off the streets, and learn English. As a character, you can't but help love Raisa. She's so very loyal and honest and fiercely determined to get what she wants out of life. It's no wonder so many people are drawn to her in the book - I would be too.

Historical fiction is a genre I always enjoy and Threads and Flames proved to be a fascinating look at the challenges a youth would face in trying to immigrate to New York at the turn of the century. I particularly enjoyed Ms. Friesner's descriptions of the various cultural neighborhoods that immigrants naturally flocked too. How Italians would find other Italians, Jews looked for other Jews, etc. in order to infuse that area with their own language, culture, food, and religion. This mini-country within a country phenomenon obviously still remains today (although not as strongly) as evidenced by the many distinct cultural neighborhoods in New York. Even more intriguing was to learn that Esther Friesner based Raisa's tale on her own ancestors immigration experiences. Fascinating stuff.

Even though Ms. Friesner obviously took the time to detail the tragedy and heartbreak experienced by those affected by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, I felt as if she tried too hard to tie up a happily ever after for Raisa. Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for this hard-working girl from day one, but the eventual unfolding of events seemed a little forced in my mind. Other than that, Threads and Flames was a compelling read with a worthwhile message to tell that even the youngest historical fiction fan can enjoy.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Good Addiction review
The Book Scout review
Squeaky Books review

book source: review copy via The Teen {Book} Scene tour


April (BooksandWine) said...

I definitely need to read some Friesner. I think before taking on Threads and Flames which does sound excellent, I want to read her Sphinx series.

ALSO, I like that you liked this. I'm glad it's appropriate for young hist fic fans :-)

Tara said...

I just discovered this author and really want to read this book as well as the Sphinx series. What a great review!!

Michelle said...

April - It was a very thought-provoking read and one I'll be glad to recommend to hist fic fans!!

Tara - Yes, the Sphinx books are on my list as well. Thanks!