Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner


It's 1910, and thirteen-year-old Raisa has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. It's overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and even dangerous, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. She finds work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists. Raisa makes friends and even--dare she admit it?--falls in love. But then 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. One of the city's most harrowing tragedies unfolds, and Raisa's life is forever changed. . . .

One hundred years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, this moving young adult novel gives life to the tragedy and hope of this transformative event in American history.

OPINION: 4 Stars

Poignant and moving, Threads and Flames blends a strong central character, a big event in history, and a shifting time period together. Holding nothing back and having a strong note on Raisa’s background, Friesner has really brought the rough side of the 1910 era to light. Though slow at first, this is an engaging and pulling read.

Raisa is a very likable character, holding a heavy determination that not only defines the time but her person as well. Unflinching in the face of hardship, and able to put others before herself, Raisa’s journey is unpredictable and emotional. Searching for her sister and trying to care for someone else, she endures things both understandable and unimaginable. Even despite the strength she held at the start, Raisa grows through a good amount of growth and development, and is a very dimension, well defined character.

Unable to speak English, and having never properly learned to read and write even her native language, Raisa started out with some tremendous hardships. She found some great ways around these things, and didn’t let it push her down, and it really spoke volumes of both the character and era. From Poland to America, the setting is also brought to life in a very realistic manner, showing both the good and the bad. Additionally, there is a strong note of the Jewish heritage, both for Raisa and those around her, which added something new to this book. It helped defined Raisa, while still driving home the point that that was not all she was, even in America.

Prominent in this book is the overall sense of hope and perseverance, but it isn’t unfounded or convenient. With a range of characters in a variety of ages, Friesner has really fleshed out both Raisa’s experiences and the time period. Though the beginning chunk was dragging, once things picked up, they stayed at a steady pace. From moments of terror to love and happiness, the gauntlet is run with this one.

The writing is very well done, with little reminders throughout that while though its in English, Raisa is speaking her home language. This shift is handled smoothly, and Raisa’s inherent intelligence despite not having learned to read or write before leaving for America comes across very strongly. Despite the historical setting, this a very easy read in terms of realism and getting into the book and overall, is a very well worth it read.

Source: Publisher provided as part of a tour with The {Teen} Book Scene
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 390 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (November 24, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0670012459
ISBN-13: 978-0670012459


  1. Great review! This sounds very good! (and historical! which I like!)

    I'm curious to see how the author managed to balance Raisa's language barrier but still maintain the overall book's language setting: which is english, of course. Very interesting...

  2. Great Review! I haven't heard much about this one but it looks fascinating.

  3. The cover for this book is gorgeous. I love the look of the burned pages and how that relates back to the story. While I've never been a big fan of historical fiction, Threads and Flames does sound like something I would enjoy. Thanks for the review!