Synopsis: It’s been four years since Lyddie’s father left to find riches. Lyddie’s mother, believing it to be close to the end of the world, leaves home with the two youngest children and leaves Lyddie (the oldest) and Charles on their own to watch after the farm. Later, they get a letter saying that she needs to settle debts, so she’s rented Charles out as an apprentice and Lyddie as a housekeeper. They’re also told that the land is being rented and to sell their animals and send Mom the money. They do so, and also sell a calf that Mom didn’t know about to their Quaker neighbors, but they put that money aside.
Work is hard in the tavern, but not as hard as Lyddie is used to working in the fields. She made friends with the cook, who likes Lyddie’s work ethic. Lyddie meets one of the mill working girls, who also admires how she works and offers her a place there. She says no, but remembers the offer later when she’s fired from her post. (She left for a few days when the mistress was away. It was slow! She had permission… just not from the mistress. Oh well.)
She heads to Lowell, Mass. She takes a carriage full of snobby people, but when it gets stuck in the mud, who’s there to save the day? Lyddie! The coach driver lets her sit up with him for the remainder of the trip, and he gets her room & board with his sister. She gets a job at the mill. They wake up at 4:30 and work 13-14 hours. She’s slow on her first day, but Diana helps her get through the day. She learns that Diana is involved in labor improvements, protests, etc. Her roommates try to warn her away, but it doesn’t matter. Once she gets used to working machines and getting a paycheck, she doesn’t pay attention to the work conditions (at least for now). After all, Lyddie’s goal of paying back the debt is in reach– if she knew what the debt was.
She writes letters to her mom to figure out what the debt is, and she never says. Instead, her uncle Judah brings her sister Rachel to her, says mom is in an asylum, and BTW, selling the farm. Lyddie begs him not to sell it. He ignores her, so she begs Charles to say something. Charles comes to the boarding house, and says Judah wouldn’t listen to him either. He’s done well with his apprenticeship, with a great family, and they want to take in Rachel too. He leaves Lyddie a letter from their Quaker neighbors; they actually bought the farm, and the son wants to marry Lyddie. She burns the letter. She’s on her own.
Lyddie’s boss tries to molest her, but she stomps on his foot and gets away from it. However, she’s sick with a fever and misses work. (This is a little out of order, sorry). She finally realizes that the work situation is making her ill, and she decides to finally sign the petition that Diana’s group has about protesting work conditions. But it’s too late, it’s already been turned in. Lyddie catches the boss trying to attack another coworker Brigid, and Lyddie stops it. Unfortunately, that gets her fired. She gets her revenge, though– she tells Brigid and her boss that if he ever lays a finger on Brigid again or tries to fire her, she would send his wife a letter about his misdeeds.
Lyddie decides to go to college, but hopes that her neighbor will wait for her.
Bookworm Commentary: Happy Labor Dabor!
- Lyddie learns how to read by reading Dickens’ Oliver. She finds herself really relating to Oliver and Fagin.
- The Quakers with the farm next door are really kind. They hide a fugitive slave in her house since no one’s there. They buy her calf, and take care of the house. The son really likes her, but he’s too shy and she’s too naive to notice.
- Best scene with a bear in a book that I’ve read. Much better than Robinson Crusoe. (If you’ve never read the entire Robinson Crusoe… I recommend you only do it if you have nothing to do or have to for class. If you get the bear reference, we can chat about how Dafoe didn’t know how to end a novel.)
- Lyddie’s mom believes the end is near. So those crazy peoples have always been around! Sadly, Lyddie refuses to send more than a dollar because her uncle fuels this belief, and she knows he’ll misuse it.
- 13 hour days, 6 days a week. Wow……… thank the ancestors for labor laws, folks!
Grades: 12 & up, according to back of book.
Grade: A. Did you know Katherine Paterson is the second Laureate of Children’s Literature? This is a good read, as many of her books are.