Ashes Of Roses Summary

Mary Jane Auch

Ashes Of Roses

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Ashes Of Roses Summary

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Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch is a work of historical fiction for young adult readers set against the backdrop of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The main character, Rose Nolan, is separated from most of her family. As a result, her relationship with her sister is rocky and they must find a way to survive in a new country—America—after passing through Ellis Island.

The book takes place during the early twentieth century; there are droves of Europeans immigrating to the United States. Many enter through Ellis Island to settle in New York City and the surrounding area, a new home that is vast and awe-inspiring. The process for getting into the country through Ellis Island is complicated; families are subjected to tests and inspections to ensure their physical health.

Rose’s full name is Margaret Rose Nolan. She is an optimist and cares deeply for her family, however, her parents return to their home country Ireland, leaving Rose to look after her sister, Maureen. Rose must call upon her bravery and resourcefulness to survive and look after Maureen while maintaining her optimism.

From the start, Rose and her family face difficulties in America. At Ellis Island, it takes them hours to go through all of the tests. The baby of the family, Joseph, has trachoma in his eye and so is sent back to Ireland. Trachoma is a bacterial infection, which causes the inner surfaces of the eyelids to become rough. Because it is highly contagious, immigrants found to have trachoma are not permitted into the country through Ellis Island. Rose’s father takes him back to Ireland, and she, Maureen, Bridget, and their mother go to their Uncle Patrick’s.

When they arrive, their difficulties continue. Patrick, his wife, and their daughters are anything but welcoming to Rose and her family. They give them dirty looks. It takes Rose a long time to find a job because she is new in America, but finally, she is employed at a flower shop. However, she quits because she is not paid for her work.

After she leaves the flower shop, Rose finds a sign in the sewer that says the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is hiring, so she applies. Rose manages to get the job, but after only two weeks, the factory goes up in flames in one of the most famous fires of the twentieth century. The fire is made even more dangerous by the fact that the doors and windows are all locked to keep workers inside working, so the employees have to try to find another way out to survive. Despite the fact that many of her friends and coworkers try to escape and die, Rose manages to live by jumping into the elevator shaft. Due to the fire, one hundred forty-six garment workers die that day—March 25, 1911—and an additional seventy-one people are injured. The fire is devastating both for the industry and for the city.

Separation is an important theme in Ashes of Roses; Rose’s father and the baby are separated and sent back to Ireland before the family even makes it into the country. Once they go, Rose’s uncle and his family treat them like outsiders. After the two families fight enough, Rose’s mother and Bridget move back to Ireland, leaving Rose and Maureen in America. She and Maureen find an apartment with a roommate named Gussie, who dies in the fire. After that, Rose returns to Ireland. Survival is another prominent theme, as Rose must look for jobs, a place to live, and a way out of the burning factory in order to survive and look after Maureen. In the early twentieth century, many immigrants worked long hours in unfavorable conditions, and lived in squalor, just to survive in America.

In addition to writing children’s books, Mary Jane Auch is also an illustrator. The illustrations in Ashes of Roses are hers. She has also written and illustrated a number of other works including The Road to Home, Journey to Nowhere, the I was a Third Grade… series, and One Plus One Equals Blue. She collaborated with her husband, graphic artist Herm Auch to write The Princess and the Pizza, which was honored as an International Reading Association Children’s Choice book in 2003. It also won the 2003 Storytelling World Award, and was nominated for both the Show Me readers Award and the Young Hoosier Picture Book Award. Ashes of Roses received the honor of placement among Booklist’s top ten historical fiction books of 2002. Mary Jane Auch is a graduate of Skidmore College and has worked as a pattern designer in the textile industry as well as with children in occupational therapy.

Critics praised the book for showing a tragedy through the eyes of the protagonist and Auch’s fast pacing that engages young readers.