City of Grit and Gold

Written by Maud Macrory Powell
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

1886 Chicago is the setting for this YA historical novel centered around the Haymarket Affair. Addie is the fast growing twelve-year-old daughter of a German Jewish hat shop owner and his arthritic wife. Her extended family includes her favorite Uncle Chaim, who is actively engaged in protests for the eight-hour workday and the rights of working people. But Addie’s gruff papa thinks the newer immigrants are dangerous troublemakers giving all of them a bad name. Also part of Addie’s world is her lovelorn sister, seeing a boy behind her father’s back, a sickly brother, and twin cousins who Addie loves dearly.

When one of the twins becomes sick with consumption, Addie is sent out onto the Chicago streets to fetch a sympathetic doctor. On one of her travels she runs straight into the aftermath of the rioting in Haymarket Square, on another she discovers harsh working conditions in a walk-up sweat shop. Addie finds her ostracized Uncle hiding. She helps bring about a reunion with her mother before the uncle is forced to flee west. Both Uncle Chaim and the doctor urge Addie to stand tall and proud, and the doctor even suggests she might be a doctor or nurse someday. Times are changing in their new country, and she can be part of it all.

Sensitive and beautifully told, City of Grit and Gold captures the 19th-century immigrant experience with its hopes and sorrows. Young readers will find much to compare with today’s refugee crisis as they identify with its resourceful and brave heroine.