Gaining inspiration from the early 20th-century unrest in many small, one-industry New England textile mill towns, Hoyt has crafted a complex interpersonal novel. Centering the narrative on preteen Kassandra Leonhart, along with her family and extended community connections, the author introduces the sordid living and working conditions prevalent at the time. Starvation wages, horrific working conditions, as well as a stifling town-life beset with religious and linguistic divisions, permeate a landscape often devoid of positive prospects. Life appears to be defined by mere existence rather than better futures.
The smoldering situation boils over when strikes and slowdowns take place to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions. At times, the town resembles a battlefield with factory management and the police viewing the strikers as ungrateful foreign terrorists. Sides are drawn, friendships shattered, physical violence the norm, with lives shattered, including that of one of Kass’s friends.
Kass is attempting to find her place within this evolving society. She navigates school relationships, struggles with her church’s dictates, works part-time, and watches as those around her often endure extreme hardship, especially when a male breadwinner is killed or injured, thus foreshadowing financial disaster for the family. At times, her own personal quest for social justice remains unfulfilled and even may have contributed in a small way to a family tragedy.
As the simmering situation quiets down, Kass is admonished that she must: “Look ahead. You cannot finish the task. Neither are you permitted to lay it down.” Written for a young adult reader, this novel graphically charts a difficult past.