Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Rosie in New York City: Gotcha!

by Carol Matas

Carol Matas, the author of 25 novels for children and young adults, is best known for her historical fiction. Her latest novel, the first in a planned trilogy, is set in 1910, in the tumult of New York City’s Lower East Side, the breeding ground for a generation of Jewish labour leaders and movie moguls.

The 11-year-old narrator, Rosie Lepidus, the daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants, has a mouth on her and chutzpah to spare. The problem is that Rosie, who is vibrantly front and centre in the story, has no other characters of her calibre to play against, thus rendering her an Al Pacino-style scenery chewer. The secondary characters are a blur of names, barely individualized. The dialogue, usually Matas’s strong suit, is flatly expository and very formal for immigrants, with Yiddishisms sprinkled throughout like slices of pastrami on white bread prose.

Rosie is thrust out of her childhood life when her socialist mother contracts pneumonia at the same time her dreamer of a father invests the family’s savings in the nickelodeon business. Rosie temporarily takes her mother’s job as a garment worker, alongside her friend Maria who has quit school to help out her family. The scenes of factory life are among the most powerful in the novel, viscerally portraying the punishing working conditions. Matas does little, however, with the tensions just touched upon in Rosie’s situation – the natural resentment she feels at being forced to work, her stabbing envy at the stability of Maria’s family and the comfort they get from their Catholic faith, and her questioning of her parents’ atheism.

In no time, Rosie is transformed into an intrepid striker and union organizer, even getting thrown into jail. As the novel proceeds, however, it seems less Rosie’s story and more a docudrama, perilously close at times to agitprop.


Reviewer: Sherie Posesorski

Publisher: Key Porter Kids


Price: $12.95

Page Count: 128 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55263-185-0

Issue Date: 2003-7


Age Range: ages 8-12