Audacity by Melanie Crowder
An outstanding historical fiction novel in verse based on the early life of Clara Lemlich Shevelson, an activist most famous for organizing the Uprising of the 20,000 which led to widespread reform in the garment industry.
Audacity is in free verse, with a strong and often thrilling narrative thread. As a result, the poems feel incisive, exciting, and purposeful. You fly through them, anxious to see what happens next, and get snared once in a while by the beauty of the words. Crowder punctuates the narrative poems with occasional lyric ones where Clara reflects on her life, her situation, and her surroundings.
Teenage Clara is a recent immigrant to the USA and cherishes the ambition to become a doctor. Her parents force her to find work instead, so Clara ends up in the hellish world of New York’s garment industry circa 1905. The work is difficult, dangerous, and low-paying; the factory bosses are cruel and abusive. When Clara protests their behavior, she’s fired on the spot. When she goes to English classes after work, her parents are furious, claiming that girls don’t need education. When she implores other factory girls to join with her and protest their hellish work environment, they ignore her.
Clara defies them all, over and over again, until she’s achieved the impossible: a massive walkout of 20,000 workers that leads to widespread reform of the industry.
Highlights for booktalks:
- Clara was a real person: you can read more about her in Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet
- Have you ever felt like the school day stretched out and out until it lasted forever? In the factories where Clara had to work, bosses would change the time on the clocks so that the workers had to stay late.
- Free verse poetry shows Clara’s internal monologue and the way she’s thinking, so it’s very easy to identify with her even though your lives are very different. Also, since the whole book is in poems, you can finish it very quickly!
Recommended for grades 7 and up.