Touched by Fire by Irene N. Watts

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This review appeared in the November issue of School Library Journal:

In this combination coming-of-age novel and early 20th century history lesson, Miriam, a Jewish teenager, and her family dream of going to America, the “Golden Land.”  Miriam’s long and eventful journey begins in 1905 as her family flees the pogroms and moves to Berlin to save money for their ultimate destination – New York City. Her father goes ahead of his wife and three children and settles on the Lower East Side, and his letters home record the struggles of immigrants trying to establish themselves in the new world. Ultimately, Miriam, traveling alone, endures steerage conditions on a ship and joins her father. A new friend and a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory seem to promise a fresh start. Fire is a real and constant threat from the novel’s opening pages; at each stage of Miriam’s journey, it plays a catalytic role. The details of the Shirtwaist tragedy are age-appropriately frightening and heartbreaking. The novel does not tread any new ground, but it does present a likable character who is reminiscent of Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it provides a solid overview of a turbulent period in world history. The novel will appeal to readers of historical fiction, but would also enhance units focusing on the first 35 years of the 20th century.


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