Middle Grade Monday: Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson
This is a lousy cover, but is the cover my audiobook had. I'll share a couple of better ones at the end of the post.
Author: Katherine Paterson, read by Alyssa Bresnahan
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 1993. Originally by Dutton Juvenile, 1991
Source: Library digital resources
Blurb (via Overdrive):
Lyddie Worthen is only 13 when her family is split up and she is forced to hire herself out at Cutler's tavern. Far from home, she despairs of ever seeing her loved ones again. Desperate, Lyddie makes her way to Concord, Massachusetts where she becomes a factory girl, working as a weaver in a textile mill.
Six days a week Lyddie struggles at the back-breaking looms. In spite of the deafening noise of the machines, the sweltering heat, and the choking air thick with lint and dust, Lyddie holds onto her dream: to save enough money to pay off the family debts and bring everyone back home-together. But as Lyddie earns a reputation for being a hard and thrifty worker, she watches the grinding work at the factory sap the vitality of young girls-some no more than eight or nine-who were once healthy and strong. When a friend is threatened by one of the factory managers, Lyddie knows it is time to speak up. But if she does, she could lose her dream and everything she has worked for.
Newbery winner Katherine Paterson has rendered with intriguing historical accuracy life in industrial New England during the mid-19th century.
Paterson is an excellent writer who researches her work carefully, and her depictions of life for the working-class in the years before the Civil War are enough to chill the blood. It's good to be reminded that it's not that long since a parent could simply "give" a child to someone to work and live away from home, money to be given to the parent (and worth remembering that it still happens in many parts of the world).
In addition to the historical setting, Lyddie herself is drawn believably and clearly. Few other characters receive the same care, but they don't really need it. For one thing, they are seen as Lyddie sees them, and we do come to realize that Lyddie is essentially self-absorbed, even when she believes she is trying to save her family. As she learns to see other people as people, the reader also sees them more clearly.
I hadn't entirely considered that work in the factories of the 19th Century might be an improvement on other kinds of work available, especially to a girl, but it makes sense. Lyddie as a tavern maid is pretty much a prisoner and works 7 days a week. At the cloth mill, she has set hours (however insanely long) and a certain amount of freedom outside working hours--and is now collecting her own rather larger wage. That there are still terrible costs to that improvement is made gradually clear to the reader as to Lyddie herself.
This book feels to me to verge on YA, due to the adult life the main character is leading (even if she is only 13 when the story opens), and to some decidedly adult situations. Nothing is described in enough detail to be too disturbing to a child, but I would still put this as a 12 and up book.
Other (and IMO better) cover images: