Fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook enjoys the bustle and energy of Philadelphia in 1763. The Nation’s capital is filled with people and Mattie has great ambitions for her family’s coffee shop. However, soon the summer’s unseasonable warmth has sapped the city’s energy and fever is beginning to sap its life. As the death toll climbs, more and more people flee the city. Mattie’s mother insists on sending her to the country, but even there she isn’t free from the effects of yellow fever.
In this frightening story of Philadelphia’s 1793 epidemic, Laurie Halse Anderson gives a detailed view of colonial life and medical practices. She also tells an intriguing coming of age story. As Mattie Cook struggles to survive and save those she loves, she learns valuable lessons about herself and the world in which she lives. This historical fiction is appropriate for young adult readers, but educational for adults as well. It covers the fear brought by an epidemic, but also shows the strength of charity and service in a difficult time.
Bella, Yetta, and Jane are three very different girls, but they are each fighting for freedom. Bella, newly arrived from Italy, is fighting to be free of the crippling poverty that plagues her family. Yetta, a Russian Jewish immigrant, wants to be free of workplace injustice. Jane, part of the social elite, wants freedom from high society restraints and the mundane life of a turn of the century woman.
Through the eyes of these three young women, Haddix shows the plight of an American woman in the early 1900s. The girls become involved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company strike against the great injustices of the Industrial Revolution factories. As readers follow the characters’ struggles, they will vow along with these girls, “We will not be stupid girls. We will not be powerless girls. We will not be useless girls.”
Haddix does an excellent job of bringing a harsh time in history to life. She makes me grateful to be a woman who has benefitted from those who have gone before. This is an important book to teach young women the value of our place in the world and the fight it took for us to get here.