Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Streets of Gold

Streets of Gold

Marie Raphael
For ages 12 and up
Persea Books, 2001   ISBN: 978-0892552566

When her brother Stefan deserts from the Russian army, Marisia’s family have no choice but to leave Poland. They know that if they stay, the Russians will come to arrest Stefan and there is a good chance that he will be shot. It is decided therefore, that they will emigrate to America where, it is said, there are streets that are paved in gold.

So begins a long journey which ends on a small island in New York harbor. Here, on Ellis Island, the family’s hopes are dashed when Marisia’s little sister Katrina is denied entry into the United States because she has tuberculosis. Her parents and little brother decide to go back to Europe with Katrina but Marisia and Stefan go on alone into the maelstrom that is New York City.

Marisia is able to get a job as a maid in a Polish household where she does her best to do what she is told and to accept her lot. She knows she is a lot better off than the other girls she has seen living in the tenements. Clearly the stories about streets being paved with gold where just that – stories. At the same time she does her best to support the daughter of the house, her friend Sophia. Sophia is going to be married off to the man her father chooses for her and Marisia does her best to be there for Sophia.

Then Stefan gets injured on the job and Marisia has to face a whole new set of problems. Stefan needs to be nursed and their money is disappearing fast. Will Marisia be able to find a job to support them both and will she be able to make enough so they can send money back to family to help care for Katrina?

Young people who are not familiar with the stories of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island will find this story about a young polish girl both fascinating and touching. Marisia is a fighter who, though she is frightened by the strange world she finds herself in, refuses to be intimidated by it. Instead she faces the challenges that come her way and best of all, she finds a way do what she really loves on her own terms.

Maria Raphael writes this story with honesty and warmth, giving her characters a genuine feel, and portraying turn-of-the-century New York City with great clarity and realism.