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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Audacity by Melanie Crowder

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Title: Audacity
Author: Melanie Crowder
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: January 8, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 12+
Pages: 400
More by this author: Parched, A Nearer Moon

The inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history

A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, Audacity is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. Bucking the norms of both her traditional Jewish family and societal conventions, Clara refuses to accept substandard working conditions in the factories on Manhattan's Lower East Side. For years, Clara devotes herself to the labor fight, speaking up for those who suffer in silence. In time, Clara convinces the women in the factories to strike, organize, and unionize, culminating in the famous Uprising of the 20,000.

Powerful, breathtaking, and inspiring, Audacity is the story of a remarkable young woman, whose passion and selfless devotion to her cause changed the world.
The stories of women like Clara Lemlich amaze and inspire me, so I cheer every time one of their stories is told. So often we learn about the men who populate history, with a few notable women sprinkled in as afterthought. But there are so many women throughout history that have played important and pivotal roles in the fight for equality and a better life for all, women who are often overlooked for one reason or another. In this verse novel from Melanie Crowder readers are offered a moving glimpse into the mind and life of Clara Lemlich.
Mama says, 
Fifteen is not too young to be thinking of such things. 

But to me that word 

is barred and barbed
threatening to hold me down 
when all I want 
is to stretch my wings 

to ride the fickle currents beyond the reach 
of any cage.
- from Audacity
Clara is a woman who's story is worth so much more than just a mention in a history text. In Audacity, instead of focusing only on Clara's lifelong fight for equal rights, Crowder includes many personal details about this remarkable woman, delving into her home life, as well as her insecurities and fears. The inclusion of these details served as a reminder that Clara was very much a real person who made the conscious to decision to fight for what she believed in, despite having little to no support from her family and knowing that the fight for inequality would be a long, arduous struggle. She worked hard to educate herself, attending classes and learning English, all while facing issues at home, working in terrible conditions, and aiding in the fight for women's rights and unionization.
"I brace myself
Set my jaw against 
the blow 
I know 
is coming 
but still 
my head whips back, 
the sound of his hand 
smacking my cheek 
seems to come from somewhere hollow 
inside my head. 

I know 
he thinks 
to break this thing in me that insists 
I think for myself 

but like a fledgling 
thrust from the nest 
it only makes me test the strength of my own 
- from Audacity
 There are many inspiring elements about Clara and her life, but I think I was most affected by her courage in the face of adversity. She was told over and over again that she wrong and she was wasting people's time. That she wasn't worth anyone's time. And it wasn't just strangers who told her these things, it was her family too. Which I imagine was especially horrible when she was new to America and had no one in her corner. Still, she fought on. She knew that the lives of women and fair work practices were not a waste of time. And that her voice mattered and could make a difference. She did make a difference. Not only did her efforts touch and make a difference for innumerable individuals, her actions directly led to the famous Uprising of 20,000, the largest strike by women in US history.
"One by one
the foreman
pats the workers down
roving over curves and creases
searching for scraps of fabric or thread or dignity

that might find its way out of the shop"

- from Audacity
It's clear that this novel is well researched. Included in the book are a glossary of terms and an interview with some of Clara's descendents. I loved that the interview was included because it offered readers a look at Clara's life after Crowder's depiction ended. Audacity only recounts a brief portion of Clara's life, but, as readers learn from the interview with her family, she married, had children, and continued her fight for equality and a better world. She was spirited and passionate, refusing to give up when the going got tough, and she passed that passion on to her family.
"I am not  so good at being a good girl. 

In this country where all are free to speak their minds 

it is becoming difficult to say nothing."
- from Audacity
I sincerely hope Audacity finds a wide audience. That it is used in the classroom and finds its way on to personal and library shelves. That it is discussed and shared and that readers, especially young women, find themselves in Clara and are inspired by her story. 


  1. This looks really interesting, and I like that it's written in verse. I feel like it adds drama to every line -- which is impressive considering it is a history that is already quite dramatic.


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