Title: Call Me Ruth
Author: Marilyn Sachs
Major Themes: Immigrants, Jews, New York City, Sweatshops, Unions
Synopsis: Life was not wonderful for Ruth and her mother after they joined her father in America, and they had to find ways to survive and love each other.
Call Me Ruth is one of those books I picked up at a book sale without knowing anything about it. Sometimes you get a treasure, sometimes a dud, and sometimes it’s just kind of in between. I would consider this one to be an in-between book.
Rifka was eight years old when the letter came that she had been waiting for all her life. Her father had finally been able to send tickets for Rifka and her mother to follow him to America! The parting with her grandparents, with whom they had lived, was hard, but the anticipation of meeting her father at last was very exciting. The trip across the ocean, in steerage, was very hard, and going through the inspections at Ellis Island nearly as hard. But then—Faigel and Rifka were reunited with the husband one had only lived with a short time after their wedding when she was 14, and the father the other had never seen. Life would now be wonderful!
But life in New York City in the 1900s was not wonderful for immigrants. Rifka, now called Ruth, soon learned that though her father was proud of her and loved her and worked very hard to support the family, he could scarcely earn enough to feed them. And then, his cough got worse and he died. What would become of the little family now?
Soon, Ruth found herself quite confused, as her mother joined a union and fought for more pay and better working conditions. Who should she listen to? Her teacher or her mother? She found herself more and more embarrassed with her mother. Could they ever find a way to love and understand each other again?
This is a well-written look at the living conditions of the Jewish immigrants in New York City, and the early days of trade unions. You’ll also learn about the struggle for women’s rights and the working conditions in the sweatshops. As I said, though, I would consider this a mediocre book, all right if you need more reading material for a preteen but not a great story.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12