**I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley and the publisher, Second Story Press, in exchange for an honest review.**
44 Hours or Strike! by Anne Dublin
Published: October 6, 2015 by Second Story Press
Genre(s): Children’s fiction, historical fiction, labor
Pages: 136 pgs.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The Toronto Dressmakers’ Strike of 1931 brings young sisters Sophie and Rose together in their fight for better working conditions, decent wages, and for their union. It’s a tough battle as distrust and resentment of immigrants is growing, with many people blaming their poverty and difficulties on these workers. Sophie and Rose are faced with unexpected — and sometimes violent — barriers, and they quickly find that a strike is more than just a march.
Barely into the strike, Rose is imprisoned after a fight in a picket line, leaving fourteen-year-old Sophie to take care of their ailing mother at night and spend her days protesting in the freezing winter. Rose’s isolation in prison weakens her resolve for change. Will they be able to continue to fight for what they once so strongly believed in?
In middle school, I vaguely remember learning about the rise of the labor movement and various workers’ strikes that popped up throughout the United States during the Great Depression in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, there was little to no emphasis on the struggles of the workers themselves or the individual rights they were working towards; the lesson about this particular part of history really only lasted one class session before moving onto covering World War II. Looking back, especially given my interest in the recent labor resurgence, I think the history classes would have truly benefited from taking more time into exploring what it was actually like to be out on the picket lines, fighting for decent working conditions. Personal perspectives, such as the ones presented in Anne Dublin’s 44 Hours or Strike!, would have absolutely been lovely to have seen in the classroom to give readers an idea of exactly how all people struggled during the Great Depression, as well as the dangers people went through during that time just to be able to feed themselves and put a roof over their head.
In 44 Hours or Strike!, we follow Sophie and Rose, two Jewish teenage sisters living in Toronto, Canada in 1931. After their father dies and their mother falls ill, the girls have no choice but to give up going to school to work in a garment factory in order to support themselves. However, conditions at the factory are exceedingly poor: the air quality is awful and dusty, no one cares if a worker injures themselves, the bosses make unwanted advances toward younger workers, and laborers are forced to work inhumanly long hours only to make piecemeal wages. The sisters, feeling the pressure from work on their shoulders, join the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union local to help in making conditions for them a little bit easier. The union decides to go on strike to protest the inhumane working conditions; however, the strikers run into issues right off the bat. Rose, the older of the two sisters, finds herself arrested following a confrontation with an anti-Semetic officer, which leaves Sophie to bear all of the work that has to be done both on the line and at home. In the dead of Toronto winter, a strike might be the last thing on the girls’ minds.
Let me make this completely clear: 44 Hours or Strike! is definitely a middle-grade novel, similar to the My Name is America and Dear America series that were popular with my friends growing up. It’s very simple to follow the prose with the author’s vivid descriptions of Toronto’s winter: the slush in the streets, the bitter cold of the air, the slippery patches on the sidewalk. It gives enough detail to set the scene for these younger readers without speaking down to them, like I’ve seen a few middle-grade authors do in the past. The beauty of Dublin’s work, though, is that it succeeded in making issues as complex as workers’ rights, social justice, and anti-Semitism palatable for younger readers. Personally, I didn’t even think about how the intersection of one’s religion (Judaism in this case) and status as a worker could create issues, but after reading through this book, it makes a lot of sense.
Because it’s so important to know the mistakes of the past so we don’t repeat it in our future, Dublin has made it easy for students to see exactly how poor working conditions caused a ripple effect of struggle in people’s lives. Through Sophie, we see how all of the stress usually falls onto one person in a family as things gradually go asunder during times of financial struggle. Rose’s storyline followed the inhumane treatment of inmates inside prisons, especially women’s prisons. However harrowing these topics can get, it never feels like Dublin is speaking down to her audience, nor does she particularly sugar coat things, either. One character experienced sexual abuse at one point, but the way Dublin handled the sensitive topic was perfect for the age group. Also, I just want to mention how much I love that actual labor leaders, like Emma Goldman, made appearances in the book. I’m not going to lie, I completely fangirled out when her introduction came. It truly was little touches like Goldman’s inclusion, among other things, that made me feel like Dublin was out to treat her subject justice.
Ultimately, I went into this book expecting it to feel like it was going to be yet another case of middle-grade authors condescending to their audience about the topic at hand. I was completely surprised — and satisfied! — to find that 44 Hours or Strike! was absolutely not the case. Through her age-appropriate, yet captivating, prose, Anne Dublin’s novel is one that will not only teach younger readers about the early years of the labor movement, but educate older readers, too, about some intersections they might not have even considered. Funnily enough, my boyfriend works for a labor non-profit and I’m thinking about telling him about this book; I think he’ll end up learning something, too.
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