Review: She Persisted: Clara Lemlich

She Persisted: Clara Lemlich

by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger and Gillian Flint

Philomel (imprint of Penguin Random House)

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Leah Cypess

She Persisted: Clara Lemlich is the latest entry in "She Persisted," a series of chapter books about women in history who made a difference. This book focuses on Clara Lemlich, a Jewish woman born in a small village in the Ukraine. After her family fled to the United States, poverty forced Clara to give up her dream of becoming a doctor in order to work in a clothing factory. However, the now-notorious conditions for workers in such factories -- especially female workers -- led Clara to become involved in union activities, including taking a key role in the largest strike of women in the history of the US. 
This is an interesting, well-written book that is ideally suited for a younger middle grade audience. Difficult subjects, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, are dealt with in a straightforward, age-appropriate way. The very end of the book becomes a bit didactic, perhaps as required by the series' structure, but overall, Clara's story and her beliefs are interwoven smoothly and compellingly. This book is highly recommended for middle grade readers with an interest in history, especially American history.
This books meets the criteria for consideration for a Sydney Taylor Award. Although it is not clear to what extent Clara's union work was motivated by Jewish values, her Jewish identity is clearly relevant to her story and is frequently stressed. This book should be a strong contender for the award.
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Reviewer Leah Cypess is the author of THORNWOOD, a middle grade Sleeping Beauty retelling (Delacorte Press 2021). She is also the author of four young adult fantasy novels and numerous short stories. Leah also writes Judaica books under the pen name "Leah Sokol."