Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lost by Jacqueline Davies

“The new girl was lost. Anybody could see that. I looked up from my machine to see her coming down the last aisle…right off I could tell she had taken a wrong turn, ended up in the wrong place, and was trying to figure out how to get back.”

When Harriet Abbott walks into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, sixteen-year old Essie Rosenfeld wonders why an upper crust-looking girl would be working in such a place. Harriet can hardly sew, and her hands look like she has never worked in her life. However, with Essie’s help, Harriet is soon sewing shirtwaists quick enough to keep up with the other girls. Essie and Harriet become fast friends. Yet, Harriet is secretive. She refuses to tell Essie where she lives and anything about her past. Essie is curious, but she has secrets of her own. Essie walks the dark streets of the Lower East Side alone desperately looking for fabric to finish a hat for her younger sister, Zelda. However, when Essie comes home late at night looking for her sister, Zelda seems strangely absent.

One day while walking on the street, Essie sees a lost notice for a woman who has a strong resemblance to her friend Harriet. Essie begins to seriously question who Harriet is and why she is working in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. As Essie confronts Harriet, a horrible fire breaks out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The fire tests the strength and resiliency of Essie and Harriet and forever changes both their lives in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1900s.

Although Lost is historical fiction, Jacqueline Davies weaves her story closely around two significant New York events of 1911: the strange disappearance of the wealthy, New York socialite Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold and the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Please click on this link to read the New York Times article from January 27, 1911 on the disappearance of Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold:

Please see the attached video which gives a description of the tragic events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911.

If the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire has sparked your interest, I encourage you to check out historian David Von Drehle’s 2003 book entitled Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. Von Drehle was interviewed by Gwen Ifill about this work on the PBS NewsHour TV Show. A link to a transcript of this interview is also included below:

Davies’ inclusion of these two significant historical events adds depth to her coming of age story to create a fascinatingly realistic fictional narrative that centers on the young adult themes of friendship, loss, and resiliency of the human spirit. This book has been approved for young adult readers 12 years-old and older. However, there are some disturbingly graphic scenes surrounding the fire that make this book perhaps more appropriate for the 14-16 year-old young adult reader.


VCaste said...

This book sounds extremely interesting! I love when author's use real historical events and weave a fictional story around those events. I think the relationship between Essie and Harriet seems very complex and I'm sure after reading this novel one can really see the impact of their social differences and why Essie seems to be hiding things from Harriet. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite kinds of writing and your post has intrigued me to pick up this book!

Hutting said...

This sounds like a great book and event to use in teaching about child labor laws and sweatshop conditions. So many people (especially women and children) had little choice but to work in these conditions to feed themselves and their families. Many students think that jobs are hard to do today - they have no idea what conditions were like before all the workplace laws were enacted.

radcinbad said...

Great blog. I have to ask, do you think you would be able to use this book in a split class when teaching about the Triangle Shirt Factory fire and the working/living conditions of the early 1900's? I have observed classrooms that utilize two teachers and serve as an English and History class, and wonder if this fiction book is historically accurate enough, or detailed enough to teach in this type of classroom. Is the book focused more on the story of the missing socialite? Regardless, the book sounds interesting and it sounds like the elements of suspense and mystery would keep students' interests.

Danielle Bartman said...

I love books like these, because sometimes it seems most of the YAL books are about sex, fashion, and drugs, so it is nice to have one that has a different subject matter all together! I can not wait to read this one

Hutting said...

I was at the library and found a book called Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It is about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory also.

Clarissa H. said...


Yes, I do think that Lost would work well in a combined English and History classroom. The Author's Note at the end of the book gives more extensive historical information regarding both events. Lost would work especially well with a history lesson on working conditions in the early 1900s or even the immigration waves in New York at this time. Thanks for the comment!