Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker

Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Review by Marcia K. Matthews

Written in diary form, this young adult novel has the immediacy of first person, present tense. Its day-to-day focus doesn’t anticipate events such as the fire at the Triangle Waist Company, so we experience them as they unfold.

At age fourteen, Angela quits school to help her family. Her father, a hod carrier, was injured carrying a load of bricks. Her mother makes artificial flowers for hats. Her sister suffers from asthma attacks. Set in 1909 in New York City, the novel quickly enlists sympathy for the plucky heroine.

Angela works in a dusty sweatshop for less than a dollar a day, long hours with no overtime, six days a week. She sees a girl injured by a sewing machine needle and nothing is done until brave Sarah stands up to the boss. Sarah tells Angela about the garment workers’ union and their fight for eight-hour work days and paid holidays.

Symbolism emerges as Angela feeds crumbs to a sparrow on her fire escape. She is like the little sparrow, fragile but surviving. “If only people could be like birds,” she muses. “If only we had wings.”

The author does a good job of explaining the Sicilian culture with its insular extended family of neighbors. She builds pathos with everyday details.