By Melanie Crowder
Philomel, January 2015
About the Book
The inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.
A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, Audacity is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. Bucking the norms of both her traditional Jewish family and societal conventions, Clara refuses to accept substandard working conditions in the factories on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. For years, Clara devotes herself to the labor fight, speaking up for those who suffer in silence. In time, Clara convinces the women in the factories to strike, organize, and unionize, culminating in the famous Uprising of the 20,000.
Powerful, breathtaking, and inspiring, Audacity is the story of a remarkable young woman, whose passion and selfless devotion to her cause changed the world.
I loved Melanie Crowder’s Audacity. It was a fascinating read, focusing on the life and work of Clara Lemlich. It would pair well with Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising and Katherine Paterson’s Bread and Roses, Too. Also Margarita Engle’s The Lightning Dreamer and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil.
I loved Clara’s strength, her determination, her ambition, her loyalty, her persistence. Whether in Russia or America, Clara dreamed of one thing above all others: getting an education and making something of herself. She wanted to be able to read and write. She wanted to be able to think and form her own opinions and express them. She was raised in an environment, a community, where education was only for men. The message that was reinforced over and over again—not specifically by her parents, but by the community—equated a woman going to school and learning with being a prostitute. An educated woman brought shame to her family. It wasn’t just that it was pushed aside or made a low priority. It was discouraged and forbidden. Clara wanted a voice of her own, and she wanted to be heard. There were many intense places in Audacity. Some within the Russian setting, some within the American. Some within her own home. Some outside the home. Audacity isn’t a light-hearted read.
The novel opens with Clara and her family in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. After facing persecution—the Jewish community within Russia faced brutal persecution—her family emigrated to America. The focus remains on Clara: her dreams and her reality. For example, while her father and brothers stay home to be scholars, she works seven days a week in a mill. The conditions under which she and all the women work are horrible. She gives her paycheck to her family faithfully, dutifully. But not without some regret. Why must she be the one working so hard, while others take it easy? Much of the book focuses on her struggle to hold onto her dreams, to hold onto dignity, her fight for right, to see justice done.
Audacity is a novel written in verse. It was powerful and compelling. The verse worked for me. It just wowed me in places! This fascinating book is easy to recommend. It’s an emotional read, but oh so worth it!