The tales of pre-teen twin sisters Pauline and Arlene change off, chapter by chapter, in this novel geared for readers ten and older. Born into a poor factory family that couldn’t feed one extra mouth, let alone two, each struggles with hatred for the other and jealousy for her life. Which was the baby who was one too many? Pauline, the “perfect one” in Arlene’s eyes, gets to go to twist threads in the mill from dawn to dusk, be with her friends and bring money home with sometimes something left over for sweets. Arlene’s club foot makes her special, in Pauline’s eyes. She doesn’t have to get up in the cold and dark, be groped by the mill boss and deal with the difficult social life of friends. She gets to stay home and cook and keep house for the family, the easy jobs.
Arlene helps with a birth in the town—another baby that is one mouth too many. Then a young boy, Jimmy, working on Pauline’s loom, is grievously hurt and the boss says Arlene, club foot or no, must come and take a sweeper’s job to take up the slack. In his fall, Jimmy hurt Pauline’s foot so badly that the next day, when they both crawl out of bed in the bitter dawn, both girls must wear one of their brother’s shoes and clump along together to the mill.
This harrowing introduction to the horrors of the Industrial Revolution is beautifully written, illustrated with a couple of photos of child factory workers. And thank goodness for the Afterword that lets us know that the photographer who’d been lurking about was going to do something about the child labor laws. Ages 10+