Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Marvelous Michigan Month: Living on Sisu

One nice thing about historical fiction is that it can be objectively assessed.  Is it historically accurate?  If it changes events, is it still realistic?  Does the author do a good job of weaving fact and fiction together to create a story that is both enjoyable and informative?

With these criteria in mind, I am very happy to tell you about Living on Sisu: The 1913 Union Copper Strike Tragedy by Deborah K. Frontiera.

Michigan connection: The story takes place in Red Jacket (Calumet), Michigan.  Ms. Frontiera is a Michigan author.
"A" marks Calumet. Screenshot of Google Maps.

Checkouts: Coming soon to the charter school library
Typical reader: Fans of the Dear America series; students looking for an historical fiction.
Source: The author

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Emma Niemi has a good life with her immigrant parents in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan.  But then a workers' strike changes everything for her and those in the area, culminating in unimaginable tragedy.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This book is basically the perfect example of an historical fiction for juvenile readers.  It is realistic, captivating, historically accurate, and sprinkled with pertinent ethnic vocabulary.  There is a map of the area, with points of interest marked.  There are a glossary, a list of historical people mentioned or featured in the book, historical notes, and a bibliography.  I don't think I could ask for more.

But you could ask for more of a review than that.

This novel is presented in a diary format.  Emma is given a journal for her birthday, and she records the events of the following year.  And what a year it is.  The Calumet area, which was home to nearly 90,000 people at the time, is torn asunder by a workers' strike.  Underground copper mining was, and is, a very dangerous operation, and it has taken many lives over the years.  The workers demanded less hours per day, better working conditions, and more pay.  The companies owned much of the town, and felt that giving workers housing, a library, schools, hospitals, and other amenities was already generous.  I'm oversimplifying, but the main thing is, trouble brewed to the boiling point.

Emma is a strong, persevering narrator.  To help the family, she starts offering help at a store in exchange for a little food or money.  Later, she finds employment as a housekeeper, and gives all her money to her mother.  She attends night classes in order to continue her seventh grade studies.  Can you imagine a middle school student doing that now, labor laws aside?  She becomes involved in strike parades, interacting with the historical figure "Big Annie," Anne Clemenc of the Western Federation of Miners Women's Auxiliary, and is witness to the horrific tragedy at the Italian Hall on Christmas Eve, when dozens of children and adults lost their lives.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  You can find it in bookstores across Upper Michigan (especially in the Keweenaw), on Amazon, or from the author at her web site.

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