This is a young adult story of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 25, 1911, as told through the eyes of Galena, an 11-year-old girl employed at the factory. Galena and her older sister Anya work in the factory in order to help their Russian immigrant family pay for the expenses of living in New York City. Anya wears a locket holding two precious pictures, one of their grandmother and another of their own family. Every morning Galena asks Anya if she may see the pictures. This gives Galena strength to get through her day, as well as making a connection to her grandmother, who she misses very much.
The work in the factory is long and difficult. The conditions are unsafe, with fabric, oily rags and crowded conditions adding to the mix. One day fire breaks out. The owners had locked the doors from the outside, in order to prevent theft and possible union activity. This sealed the fate of the workers trapped inside. By the time the fire was doused, 146 people had lost their lives. All but twenty-one of those were women in their mid-teens.
Lieurance paints sympathetic main characters. She does not gloss over sweatshop conditions or the tedious, repetitive work done by under-aged women working for pennies a day in order to survive in their new country. This is a well-written, fascinating account of life in New York City at the turn of the last century. I recommend The Locket to readers and librarians.