The book is historical fiction based on real events that happened in the early 1900's in New York City: the uprising of the 20,000 (a strike by 20,000! garment workers - mostly young immigrant women) and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers. This fire was the most deadly business-place disaster to take place in New York City until September 11, 2001. I couldn't quite picture a shirtwaist despite the description in the book, so I looked up a picture. They aren't exactly popular nowadays, but they were all the rage for women back then.
The story is written in the 3rd person, with each new chapter focusing on a different one of the main characters. Bella (far right in the picture) is a super recent Italian immigrant to America who gets a job at the Triangle. Yetta (center in the picture), one of Bella's coworkers, is a Jewish Russian immigrant who's been in the U.S. longer and who gets really involved in the strike right off the bat. Jane (far left in the picture) is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and she's just started to realize her wealth has come at the expense of factory workers. It doesn't happen overnight, obviously, but the three 15-year-old girls eventually end up becoming close friends.
The first chapter starts 20+ years down the road, with one of the daughters of the Triangle Factory boss coming to talk to "Mrs. Livingston," one of the three girls. You learn that Mrs. Livingston is the only one of the trio to survive the fire, but you don't know which girl Mrs. Livingston is. You don't find out for sure until the final chapters. My guess was totally wrong!
All book long you're dreading the fire you know is coming, but tons of other truly horrible stuff happens to these girls too, especially Bella and Yetta. It is appalling the stuff people got away with doing to young immigrant women. And it wasn't just male factory owners, overseers, and police. It was other women too! These girls were tough and determined to the max - you can't help but get emotionally attached to them. Everything that ends up happening seems so real and vivid in my mind.
This book really makes you think. About where your clothes come from, for one: who makes them, what kind of conditions the workers work in, and whether they are paid fairly. It has inspired me to learn more about the Women's Rights Movement. It also has made me feel really blessed to live in this time period as a middle-class American girl. Way too often we take it all for granted!