I was quite surprised at how quickly the book tugged at my heart strings! I seriously was crying in the first chapter!
Historical Fiction: The Story
This story is about a young girl, named Boshka, who travels to America in the early 1900’s (1906, to be exact). She is from Lithuania, her family is Jewish, and she is only 18 years old.
The story starts with her saying her goodbyes to her family. She is going on the journey by herself. It is scary, but she can do it.
She will go and stay with friends and family in America and start a new life. A life where people won’t want to hurt her just because of her faith.
Before she boards her train (which will take her to the ship she will sail to America on), a woman stops and asks her a favor. She has a pillow she would like to give to her son whom is already in America. She would like Boshka to take it to her son. She agrees.
The pillow has a Yiddish phrase embroidered on it: “May this pillow bring you peace.”
Well, that pillow does give her peace. Both while on her journey to America and after she is there.
Once in America, we follow Boshka from Ellis Island where they give her a new name. Boshka is “too Jewish” and so she is given the name of Elizabeth. Then, once with family, they change it again to Bessie. From then on, she is referred to as Bessie.
It is so eye-opening to walk with Bessie as she learns all about her new city, New York City.
I struggle with what to tell you, because I don’t want to ruin the story. She learns about love, loss, pain, and pleasure. And along the way, we the readers, get to see what it is like to be an immigrant in America in 1906.
Topics to be aware of
We used this book as a read aloud with my 13 and 15 year old children. In my opinion, there are topics in the book that are too “old” for my almost 9 year old.
Some topics you might want to be aware of that are talked about in the book are rape, murder, suicide, and a loveless marriage.
The first thing that popped up for my kids in the first chapter was talking about how the government in Lithuania were raping and murdering Jews… just for being Jewish. This was a hard one for me. I keep my kids pretty sheltered (on purpose) from the evils in the world. So, my 13 year old did not know what rape was. He did not know that people sometimes forced themselves on others without permission. He had to learn that word eventually, and I’m glad it was in the context of history instead of on the local news. And we had a chance to talk about it, too.
Overall, the topics I mentioned above are not explained in detail and it is not a focal point of the story. I didn’t have a problem with it. It just gave me the opportunity to talk to my kids about how good we’ve got it in our country.
What we thought
My kids and I really enjoyed this book a lot!! I loved the style of writing the author used to convey all of the sights, sounds, and emotions our main character, Bessie, endured. I really can’t recommend this book enough!
Also, on the Strong Learning, Inc. website, there are free study guide resources to further what you will learn in the story. I actually recommend you not look at it until after you read the book, though. It will give away which suitor Bessie ends up marrying. :)
Information at a glance:
For whom? Older children and adults (This is my opinion. Younger students could read it, but I wouldn’t want my young children reading about the topics in the book. I would recommend an adult read it first to make a decision.)
How much is it? $15