6 Great Young Adult Books about the Lower East Side & Brooklyn

By Julie Hartman

Last week we focused on great Lower East side books for young children, this week we focus on literary selections young adult readers will love hand-picked by Museum at Eldridge Street staff. Grown-ups will enjoy them, too!

(1) The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

The Museum at Eldridge Street’s Deputy Director, Amy Stein-Milford, recommends The Bread Givers, Anzia Yezierska’s moving novel about a Lower East Side Rabbi’s daughter who is struggling with her father’s “Old World” beliefs and traditions: “The Bread Givers is a classic tale of turn-of-the-century immigration, assimilation, and passage into womanhood. And hat teenager wouldn’t appreciate a tale of young rebellion against an oppressive parent? The writing is direct and brings to life the Lower East Side of 100 years ago.”

Bread Givers

(2) Out of the Shadow: A Russian Jewish Girlhood on the Lower East Side by Rose Cohen

Education Director Judy Greenspan is a big fan of Out of the Shadow. First published in 1918, it is one of the earliest autobiographical accounts of immigrant life on the Lower East Side. Through personal stories and real-life characters, Rose Cohen explores the subjects of garment industry conditions, neighborhood courtship and marriage, Eastern European religiosity in America, and women’s rights.

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(3) Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser

Winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Martin Dressler chronicles the life of a young entrepreneur born to German immigrant parents in late nineteenth century New York City. From Martin’s tumultuous journey to the top of the hotel management chain, there is much to be learned about love, ambition, and fulfillment of the American Dream.

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(4) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

We cross the Williamsburg Bridge connecting the Lower East Side and Brooklyn  and recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – an all-time favorite novel of summer intern, Julie Hartman, and Director of Cultural Programs, Hannah Griff-Sleven!  Literature serves as 13-year-old Francie Nolan’s escape from the stresses of poverty and family disharmony in turn-of-the-century Williamsburg, Brooklyn: a bustling immigrant metropolis comprised of Irish, Austrian, and Jewish families working to make ends meet.

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(5) The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The teenage years of protagonists Reuven and Danny coincide with World War II’s devastating aftermath, the Zionist movement, and American denominational splits between Hassidic, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. The politically and denominationally diverse Jewish neighborhoods of 1940’s Brooklyn are explored with insight and intimacy in this celebrated young adult novel.

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(6) Streets: A Memoir of the Lower East Side by Bella Spewack

Transylvanian Jewish author Bella Spewack wrote Streets at the age of 22 while working as a journalist in Europe. The book recounts her experience as the child of a single mother on the Jewish Lower East Side. Spewack brilliantly describes the obstacles she and her family faced in their quest for financial stability, physical health, and adequate education.

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