Tuesday 30 March 2021

Have a sneak peak between the covers of Heather Wardell's fabulous book — Fiery Girls #HistoricalFiction #MustRead #Excerpt @HeatherWardell


Publication Date: March 25, 2021
Publisher: Heather Wardell
Page Length: 324
Genre: Historical Fiction

Two young immigrant women. One historic strike. And the fire that changed America.

In 1909, shy sixteen-year-old Rosie Lehrer is sent to New York City to earn money for her family’s emigration from Russia. She will, but she also longs to make her mark on the world before her parents arrive and marry her to a suitable Jewish man. Could she somehow become one of the passionate and articulate “fiery girls” of her garment workers’ union?

Maria Cirrito, spoiled and confident at sixteen, lands at Ellis Island a few weeks later. She’s supposed to spend four years earning American wages then return home to Italy with her new-found wealth to make her family’s lives better. But the boy she loves has promised, with only a little coaxing, to follow her to America and marry her. So she plans to stay forever. With him.

Rosie and Maria meet and become friends during the “Uprising of the 20,000” garment workers’ strike, and they’re working together at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 when a discarded cigarette sets the factory ablaze. 146 people die that day, and even those who survive will be changed forever.

Carefully researched and full of historic detail, “Fiery Girls” is a novel of hope: for a better life, for turning tragedy into progress, and for becoming who you’re meant to be.

Chapter One


August 22, 1909

"Rosie Lehrer!"

Fear holds me still for a moment, then I realize that if I take too long, I might lose my chance. If I even have a chance.

My legs shaking so much I feel almost as though I'm still on the ship, I manage to walk forward to the girl, a little older than me, who called my name.

"I'm Cecilia Greenstone, Rosie, and this man here is your inspector," she says in Yiddish, gesturing to the stern-faced man in a black suit who sits, perched on a high stool, with one hand resting atop a messy stack of papers on a small desk before him. "I will be your interpreter. Unless you speak English?"

"Not well enough— I mean, I did try to learn, but—" I bite my lip. "Yiddish, please." Not that it'll matter what language we use, once she learns the truth about me.

She nods. "Yiddish is fine. Please do speak as loudly as you can."

I already was.

"Have you any relatives here already?"

"No," I admit, trying to hide the trembling of my hands in the folds of my skirt. "No, I do not."

Should I keep my eyes on Cecilia? It would ordinarily be polite, since she's the one speaking. But I know that the questions she asks aren't hers, they're the inspector's. He's the one who matters. But he terrifies me.

Cecilia moves a little closer, cupping her hand around her ear. "Will your husband—no, you're only sixteen. Your father, then? Will he arrive soon? Or perhaps a brother?"

I shake my head, misery sweeping over me.

She moves closer still and lays her hand on my shoulder. "Rosie, it's all right. Answer the questions and I'll be able to help you."

"You won't," I say, fighting back a sob. "I'm not allowed."

"Not... what do you mean?"

"I am alone," I admit. "I came here alone. My parents didn't know... we thought I could... but... on the ship..." I stop, unable to find words to describe the horror I felt when, on the very day my ship departed, I learned that a girl alone would not be permitted into America.

Cecilia squeezes my shoulder. "It is all right, Rosie. No, you can't leave Ellis Island alone, but you won't have to. If you do well, if you answer my questions carefully, I have people who can help you."

I want to believe this. I need to. But I've only just met her.

"Trust me," she says, looking into my eyes and nodding as if she can see what I'm thinking. "Trust me, Rosie. I promise you. I work with the National Council of Jewish Women, and we can find you a room and a job and—"

The inspector barks a few words, which I can't quite hear, and Cecilia turns back and answers him. He pulls his mouth to one side as if he doesn't like what she said, but he gives a sharp nod.
"We must go through the questions quickly, Rosie. Do your best."

My father would call me foolish, but I find myself trusting her. "All right."

"And be loud!"

I've been raised to be a quiet girl, a good girl. But here, I must be different. With so many potential immigrants in this huge high-ceilinged hall, each with an interpreter helping an inspector decide whether they should be allowed to enter America, everyone's almost shouting to be heard over everyone else, and I need to make myself do the same. I need to take a deep breath and shout my answers, though the air stinks of the fear of people who haven't bathed for weeks.

But how, when I'm so scared I can hardly speak at all?

Cecilia nods encouragingly and gives me a small smile, barely a twitch of her lips, and I try to calm myself by looking only at her gentle face below her thick brown hair swept up beneath a pretty gray hat.

I think she cares about me. 

I think the inspector does not. 

Men in uniform never care about Jews, it seems to me, unless they're deciding how to get rid of us, and his cold eyes and set jaw frighten me.

"Rosie, tell me, why have you come here?"

I take such a deep breath that my corset creaks then push out my words as loudly as I can. "I am here to earn the money to bring my family to America. My parents, my brother, my two young sisters."

She raises her eyebrows and I know she's thinking the same thing I am: it will take me years to earn passage for five people.

She doesn't say it, though. Instead, she asks a few more questions, about my background and what I know about America, then gives me a smile that reminds me of how my mother can tell me I have managed to impress her without speaking a word. 

As my heart begins to fill with hope, she turns and says something to the inspector. 

Though I can't hear her, he obviously can, because he answers her then waves his hand toward the staircases behind him as if shooing away a fly.

"You passed," Cecilia says to me, still in Yiddish. "Welcome to America, Rosie."

To my shame, my eyes fill with tears and I barely manage to hold back a sob.

I have spent nearly two weeks worrying in every waking moment. Though I tried to be optimistic, I couldn't. I was certain that once we reached New York I'd be put right back on the stinking horrible ship and forced to return to Belostok, to Russia. To the Pale of Settlement, where we Jews are forced to live. I've had nightmares every night about it.

But Cecilia told me I would be allowed in, and she was right.

Heather is a natural 1200-wpm speed reader and the author of twenty-two novels. She came to writing after careers as a software developer and elementary school computer teacher and can’t imagine ever leaving it. In her spare time, she reads, swims, walks, lifts weights, crochets, changes her hair colour, and plays drums and clarinet.

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