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Rosie in New York City: Gotcha!    by Carol Matas order for
Rosie in New York City
by Carol Matas
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The fictional story forms almost a background to the thrilling account of the young (many of them teenage girls) shirtwaist makers' strike in 1909/1910 New York City - which had a significant impact on the development of the US Labor movement (there's an Afterword on the strike with net links for further information.) We first encounter eleven-year-old Rosie Lepidus playing Gotcha! amongst the pushcarts with her friends. Rosie's father is a theater prompter, and her mother is a shirtwaist maker, suffragette and union worker. Theirs is a Jewish family from the Ukraine.

After her mother catches pneumonia from bad working conditions, and her father invests in Nickolodeons, Rosie must stop school and join her friend Maria at the factory. She begins to appreciate her mother's point of view after she and the others are locked in to the factory room, forbidden to talk or sing, and fined at the drop of a hat. Working conditions are not only dreadful but also dangerous. A neighboring building collapses under the weight of overcrowded conditions and there is the constant risk of fire, and of course no possibility to escape it from a locked room.

When her co-workers go on strike, Rose joins them 'for my mama'. She's bundled into a paddywagon, suffers a brief stint in jail, and has to deal with the fact that her best friend becomes a 'scab' when Maria's family needs money. When Rosie asks her Papa the universal question of why God lets bad things happen, he answers her that she will have to sort that out for herself just as he still tries to do. All's eventually well that ends well, with Rosie learning the importance of friendship, and of the damage that lies can do in family life. The book closes as Rosie enjoys a final game of ring-a-levio before setting off by train to Chicago and (no doubt) further adventures.

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