Stitching a Life

An Immigration Story

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Pub Date 09 Jun 2020 | Archive Date 05 Jun 2020

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It’s 1900, and sixteen-year-old Helen comes alone in steerage across the Atlantic from a small village in Lithuania, fleeing terrible anti-Semitism and persecution. She arrives at Ellis Island, and finds a place to live in the colorful Lower East Side of New York. She quickly finds a job in the thriving garment industry and, like millions of others who are coming to America during this time, devotes herself to bringing the rest of her family to join her in the New World, refusing to rest until her family is safe in New York. A few at a time, Helen’s family members arrive. Each goes to work with the same fervor she has and contributes everything to bringing over their remaining beloved family members in a chain of migration. Helen meanwhile, makes friends and—once the whole family is safe in New York—falls in love with a man who introduces her to a different New York—a New York of wonder, beauty, and possibility.

It’s 1900, and sixteen-year-old Helen comes alone in steerage across the Atlantic from a small village in Lithuania, fleeing terrible anti-Semitism and persecution. She arrives at Ellis Island, and...

Advance Praise

“In this YA novel, a young Jewish woman and her family flee persecution and seek a better life in the bustle of turn-of-the-century Manhattan. A pleasant read.”

―Kirkus Reviews

“Stitching a Life is a passionate retelling of one woman’s journey.”

―Readers' Favorite, 5/5 stars

“The heroine of this story is my grandmother as well as the author’s. For years I wondered about her life in Lithuania as a young girl, about her brave journey to America on her own, what her life was like when she got here, and how she met my grandfather. To my shame I never asked her about any of these things. But Mary Helen Fein has brought them all to life for me in wonderful, vivid colors, and now I see her as the young woman who eventually became my beloved old Nana.”

―Julian Barry, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Lenny and many other films

“This heartfelt immigration story is far more that the story of a single family. It is the story of America and the birth of what became The American Dream for so many immigrants from all over the world. Mary Helen Fein renders this very big story by showing us the small moments of a family who sought refuge from oppression in the arms of a new and welcoming country. Touching, inspiring, and timely, this story stirs patriotism of the most intimate kind and reminds us of the deepest ideals and of this country.”

―Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, author of Fire & Water and Filling Her Shoes

“In this YA novel, a young Jewish woman and her family flee persecution and seek a better life in the bustle of turn-of-the-century Manhattan. A pleasant read.”

―Kirkus Reviews

“Stitching a Life is a...

Available Editions

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ISBN 9781631526770
PRICE $16.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

Stitching a Life by Mary Helen Fein is an enjoyable and interesting novel that is part biography and part historical fiction.

The author discusses in detail how she found inspiration in the story of her grandmother, Helen Breakstone Fein, and her story of immigration to the States to create a better life. She details all of the known facts, the research she did in reading and in person, and what details she filled in to create a great narrative.

We first meet Helen when she and her family are still experiencing the harrowing situation in Russia (a part of Russia that is now Lithuania). We see the hardships that she and her family are facing as Jewish citizens and all of the potential tragedies that could befall them if they stay.

We then get to follow along as Helen and her family immigrate at the turn of the 20th century to create a new, and safer existence.

They know that there will still be trials and tribulations in the new land, but opportunities exist that are not available in their volatile homeland.

It was interesting to take a peak inside one family’s immigration story and follow along to see the long-term outcomes of its members and descendants.

I truly enjoyed the book.

4/5 stars

Thank you NetGalley and She Writes Press for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication.

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Stitching a Life by Mary Helen Fein is such a passionate story. As soon as I saw the title and the description, I knew I wanted to get lost in this book. That I did! This is the first I have read by this author and I am hooked.

I felt like I was right there with each character. There is so much detail in this YA story about immigration, Lithuania, arriving in New York, family and love.. I learned so much from this story.. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to get lost in a page-turner! .

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This is a poignant and important story. I was left wanting more. I loved that this book was based on actual events from the author’s grandmother.

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This is the beautiful story of Hinde and her journey to America as the result of her love for her brother. It follows her journey from Lithuania, through Ellis Island, to the streets of New York, and into adulthood. It is a clean book, with some romance and difficult situations thrown into the mix, but very appropriate for teens. We will be using this book during our study of pograms and the Jewish immigration from Russia.

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A beautiful story a journey a book based on the authors grandmothers life.Emotionally moving wonderfully written.A very special story.#netgalley #shewritespress

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Loved the way Mary Helen Fein embellished her grandmother’s experiences to create this amazing read. The main character, Helen, immigrates from Lithuania, joining her father in New York City. The passage telling Helen’s travel on the ship culminating with her arrival and sight of the Statue of Liberty brought tears to my eyes. Also loved the fascinating glimpses of life in the garment industry during this time frame, as well as the way of life and importance of family. A very heartwarming story of a delightful family. Many thanks to Mary Helen Fein, She Writes Press, and NetGalley for affording me the opportunity to read this engaging ARC of a soon to be published book. Looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Thank you net galley for the advance reader copy of this novel. This was an excellent glimpse of immigrant life in America in the 1900s. The author clearly did a lot of research and it was neat to read that she actually pulled from the life of her own grandmother. The main character, Helen, comes from Lithuania escaping antisemitism to work in the garment industry in NY. Helen's coming of age and figuring out relationships with family, friends, God and boys is well paced. This novel was again very detailed and more of something that I would recommend for classroom reading rather than just pleasure reading of historical fiction. Great read!

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I loved this story. My Grandpa came to New York in 1900, from Shlov in Russia. He was 18, and had 50 cents in his pocket. He came to the Lower East Side in Manhattan as well. This story could have been my family. I fell in love with the Breakstone’s, and a question I have for the author is, Are they any relation to the famous dairy company here in the US. I loved reading about Hester Street and the Lower East Side (my mom grew up on Rivington Street, the pushcarts, the apartments and the people,the food, the Jews...God Bless the Jews!!!! This book needs to be sold at the bookstore in the Tenement Museum! Thank you to Mary Helen Fein and to She Writes Press and NetGalley for the ePub. I loved this book!

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Stitching a Life is fiction but is based on the author's grandmother's immigration story. The fact that it is rooted in truth and some of these things are things that her grandmother may have gone through makes the story resonate with me more. I spend a lot of time researching my family tree and one of my favorite things to discover in both my tree and my friends when I help them research their roots is the family member that came to the United States. I imagine their stories, and I imagine Helen's in great detail with this beautiful young adult novel. I can imagine the fear of having to leave her family behind, of having to travel all alone to meet her father in the United States, the anxiety about being in a new country. This was a great story that I urge anyone who enjoys historical fiction or learning about the past to read.

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Stitching a Life is an excellent read. Based on the life of her grand,other, Fein deftly presents a historical backdrop at early 20th century life in New York City for Eastern European Jews. I appreciated the rich details and heartwarming characters. Although this is promoted as teen fiction, I think it's applicable for historical fiction in general. I loved how the author provided an epilogue with what happened with people in the story. I love the cover as well.

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Wonderful! I loved the book from start to finish! A beautiful portrayal of a family's immigration to America from a young woman's point of view! I loved the character development! Highly recommend!

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The characters in this novel will stick with me in the best of ways. I am so thankful to have read this family’s story. I was transported to a different time and place. The imagination of the author and the attention to detail made this historical fiction come to life! With each page I was further transported into a different time and place. I could not put this down and was rooting for Hinde from beginning to end!

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Stitching a Life is a wonderful true story of immigration to the New World at the turn of last century. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this book. The author is so blessed to have such a warm and caring family. I highly recommend this book.

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This book, while a work of fiction, is incredibly relevant today. Immigrants built this country based on hard work and pride in that work. They expected nothing to be handed to them from the government. I loved this book.

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Peaceful and Serene.

A beautiful historical fiction novel that weaves in the family history of the author's beloved grandmother, Helen Breakstone Fein. A jew escaping anti-antisemitic Russia to enter and find her place in the New World during the 1900's along with her parents and five siblings.

To me it was more interesting knowing how personal it was to the author. I felt like I was in a coffee shop listening to a friend tell me about her family history. The worries and hate the Breakstones endured in Russia, the difficult sacrifices parents commit to make sure their children have the best future possible, to what is really involved in immigration and what it means to start a new life in a new world leaving comfort, family and memories behind. I loved the pace and tone Mary took in writing the book, it was genuine and authentic. I appreciated that it did not have paragraphs of dialogue or an excessive amount of historical fiction research. Though still very well research, I thought it was sufficient for the direction and focus of her story. Although, it is based on a true story Mary made it a fictional novel and in my opinion I thought there could of been a more heightened plot.

Overall, this read was a joy. The more pages I turned the more comfort I felt.

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This story tells of the persecution of the Jews all over Europe and how one family in particular made their escape to a better life, the difficult choices they had to make and their success in the end. A feel-good book that I thoroughly enjoyed especially told through the eyes of someone who was there, the historical truth. Absolutely brilliant.

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Super good book about hard work and sacrifice and how it was for the people trying to get to America. Very heart wrenching. I can’t even imagine how it would be to send my child off to another country to work not knowing when or if you would see them again. Loved this book.

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A well written heartfelt novel about Helen and her family, immigrating from Lithuania one at a time, as the funds are available. Helen and her father come to America first, working hard in the garment industry to bring the rest of the family over. A good view of early century New York, and an all around good read. Recommended.

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