Review of Papergirl in Herizons Magazine

In Papergirl, the posthumously published novel by Melinda McCracken, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is about to begin, and 10-year-old Cassie Hopkins is determined to be part of the excitement. An exuberant and curious protagonist, she is enthusiastic about learning as much as she can about the economic conditions that led to this historic moment. In this fast-paced novel, young (and older) readers learn right alongside Cassie. Released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, Papergirl was written nearly 40 years ago by McCracken, who died in 2002. The manuscript was updated by Penelope Jackson. Papergirl is a fictionalized version of one of the most important events in labour history. Offering multiple perspectives, Papergirl examines the strike through the experiences of women, including Cassie’s mother, who is apprehensive about the growing unrest, and Mrs. Smith, a factory worker who works long hours for a low wage. It also highlights real-life women, including Helen Armstrong, who headed the Women’s Labour League, and the Labour Café volunteers who fed striking women from department stores, factories, laundries and hotels. Young readers will empathize with Cassie’s initial frustration that, because of her age, she’s unable to participate in the growing movement . This changes when she begins volunteering as a papergirl, a role generally occupied by boys. By selling the strike bulletin at the famous corner of Portage and Main, Cassie helps to offer an alternative to the misinformation distributed by the daily press. She’s able to talk to others and form her own educated opinions. McCracken’s ability to write about complex topics with tenderness and through engaging dialogue makes Papergirl an excellent introduction to privilege and income disparity for young readers. Topics such as unionization, collective bargaining and living wages are presented intelligently and in an accessible way. Most importantly, Papergirl triumphantly shows how one young girl’s determination and opinions can have an impact on the precarious world unfolding around her.

— Jessica Rose for Herizons Magazine

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