A Pickpocket’s Tale
by Karen Schwabach
Random House, October 2006; 240 pp. ; $15.95 HC
Core Audience: Girls 8-12 who love historical fiction and readers interested in fiction featuring Jewish characters
Strengths: Takes a fresh look at early colonial history
London 1730. Molly, a ten year old orphan, is arrested for being a pickpocket, and is sentenced to seven years in the colonies as an alternative to death. This concise story follows Molly on her difficult ocean journey and her arrival in the New York where she is sold in the slave market as an indentured servant to a Jewish family, the Bells. Mr. Bell is a prosperous businessman, and he and his family are kind to Molly, but Molly is none too sure about anything in this new and unfamiliar world. Determined to get back to London at any cost, Molly must soon decide between her past, and a newfound sense of self in the new colony.
Although it would be easy to overlook, I loved this little novel for several reasons. First, it is filled with vivid descriptions of life in early New York, and of the rites and rituals of early Jewish colonists. I know of no other book that takes a close look at middle-class Jews in early New York. Schwabach obviously did a tremendous amount of research and it shows in her use of language, her descriptions of the buildings and clothing, and the believability of his characterizations. I especially enjoyed the use of “Flash-cant”, and old London dialect developed by thieves so that they could talk without being understood by their marks. The book includes a glossary so that readers can decipher the slang, as well as a good appendix discussing the actual history behind the story. This story will be a solid addition to a section on colonial history, or historical fiction.