This was had been on my TBR list forever, and then I got it out and it was in my TBR stack forever and then I finally decided that this was ridiculous and I should just read it. So I did.
In this book, Davies intertwines the stories of two girls, Essie and Harriet, and also two historical events–the Triangle fire and the disappearance of Dorothy Arnold a few months before. It’s straight historical fiction, with Essie as our narrator. I love historical fantasy as much as the next person, but it was nice to read something that was firmly grounded in the real historical events.
One of the strong points of the book was the intertwining of the two girls’ stories, which is really the focus of the story. There’s some romance, but it’s really about the relationship between Harriet and Essie, and about Essie’s relationship with her sister Zelda. The Zelda plotline was in some ways the weakest part of the book–I understood Essie’s motivations, but it was also hard to see why the adults in the story let her keep going. Still, I was less bothered by this during the reading of the book than I was afterwards.
Despite the fact that the Triangle fire is one of the major events of the book, it doesn’t dominate the storyline. In fact, it happens at the very end and the events of the fire are laid out, not as a non-fiction book might, focusing on causes and repercussions, but as Essie experiences them. Similarly, the working conditions in the building are mentioned (i.e., not glossed over) but also are not dwelt upon. This makes sense, since Essie is used to them. It’s not until Harriet, with her different background and fresh eyes, comes to work there that Essie mentions the quotas and the difficult way of life.
The narration is in two parts–Essie’s first person, past tense account of 1911, which is interspersed with dated narration, also from Essie’s point of view, but from further in the past. This is, I think, meant to be read as a diary, but it didn’t work for me on that level. The beginning did, but the end didn’t make sense in the light of Essie’s refusal to see the truth. How could she believe that [spoiler redacted], if she had written that [spoiler redacted]? On the other hand, they didn’t quite work for me as flashback either, because they were dated and the pages made to look like old paper. Still, I think they provided a necessary framing to the story.
The other thing I did have some trouble with was the neatness of the conclusion, the way the different strands tied themselves together. And when I think about the ending, I have a lingering sense of let-down that I’m having trouble pinpointing. It may be simply that I wish there had been a little more time spent at the end, rather than quickly wrapping everything up.
Still, this was a nice read, especially for the relationship between Harriet and Essie, and for Essie’s voice which read to me as sounding period without being affected. I bought her voice and, largely, her character, and that’s really what made it work.
Book source: public library
Book information: Marshall Cavendish, 2009; mg/YA (I’d say upper MG-lower YA), historical fiction
Recommended by: Melissa Wiley