Book: A House of Tailors (2004)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (1870s)
Rating: 4 Stars
Basic Plot: Dina is coming to America. It was supposed to be her sister on the boat, but plans don’t always go the way you intend. When her uncle sees her at the dock, he isn’t happy. And the situation at her uncle’s isn’t quite what Dina was planning for either. She wants nothing more than to escape the life of a seamstress. The problem is that the Uncle is a tailor, and he expects her to help him as part of her keep. That’s when Dina decides she’s going to start saving her money so she can buy a ticket back to Germany. However it’s not going to be as easy as she thinks.
1) History is my thing. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good immigrant story. This one happens to be about the 1870s in New York City. One of my favourite historical sites in NYC is the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. While technically this story takes place in Brooklyn, I assume there’s a lot of similarities. So, it was fun to read a story that has a setting from one of my favourite museums! Complete with the sewing machine!
2) The Uncle and Dina go head-to-head. First, I love how he’s called the Uncle. Not Uncle Lucas, but just the Uncle. It perfectly encapsulates their relationship. Then compare Dina’s relationship to Barbara (the aunt, but always called just Barbara) and baby Maria, who give Dina the love and support she needs so far away from her family back in Germany. (And, as it turns out, the Uncle isn’t as bad as all that.)
3) Dina’s a feisty one. I admire her determination and her quick thinking. One of my favourite stories involves the small pox plot. I loved it even more when I found out that this is a story that stems from the author’s own family history!
4) I like how the hats come into play in the story. And can I say that I was cringing during the scene where she’s a brand new maid at the rich lady’s house. She’s just supposed to take breakfast up and leave it for the mistress of the house, but when she sees all the hats… Well. Ooh, boy!
5) I love the twist with the sister. I’ll leave it at that.
WHAT’S NOT COOL…
1) I’m not sure I completely bought the motivation near the end of the book where [SPOILER] the Uncle decides to send Dina back to Germany, like she wished.[END SPOILER] I understand the reason why the author needed this to happen, but I wasn’t totally sold on how it fit in with the plot.
2) Also, the relationship with Johann is a little odd since she’s only 13 years old. During those scenes, she seemed so much older, like I was suddenly reading a book about a 16-year-old. Again, I understand why the author did this, but at times this plot-line almost seemed too old.
My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book. Which isn’t too surprising since I really enjoy reading almost everything by this author. I’d recommend it to anybody who loves history, especially if you love a good historical book about the immigrant experience in New York City.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!