Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
392 Pages
Reviewed on 06/29/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Threadbare is a work of fiction in the historical fiction, interpersonal drama, and slice-of-life genres, and is the second novel in the Gilded City series. Penned by author Jane Loeb Rubin, the plot follows Tillie, a determined young girl who marries Abe, a lonely widower, instead of moving north with her farming community. She hopes Abe will support her education in the Lower East Side, but she faces the harsh realities of tenement life. Over the decades, Tillie partners with Abe to build a successful button business and, with her neighbor Sadie, establishes a unique garment company. Defying anti-Semitic Victorian values, Tillie gains wealth, but her life is ultimately disrupted by an unexpected and devastating challenge.

Author Jane Loeb Rubin uses fantastic research into culture and industry to craft an immersive historical novel that vividly portrays the ingenuity and tenacity of its protagonist, Tillie. Her initial hope and subsequent shock at the harsh conditions of the tenements set the stage for a story of perseverance and grit, and I admired how Tillie and her neighbor Sadie defied the norms of their time. The storytelling displays their defiance in a historically accurate way, showing the many different attitudes and pressures of the time that they were up against. The partnership with Abe was expressed well through dialogue that allowed readers to determine the dynamics of their arrangement whilst also highlighting their mutual support and determination. Rubin's depiction of Tillie's journey from rural innocence to urban entrepreneur was inspiring and realistic, filled with triumphs and heartbreaking setbacks that kept the novel moving at a good pace. Overall, Threadbare is a compelling read that stayed with me long after finishing the book, and I would certainly recommend it to fans of historical fiction everywhere.

Nino Lobiladze

Threadbare by Jane Loeb Rubin, the second book in a series, is for fans of historical fiction and drama. Mathilda Isaacson is a passionate reader and a brilliant student who dreams big. But her father, Sam, considers moving from their farm on the outskirts of New York to Sullivan County. It means there will be no high school for Mathilda (Tillie) in the foreseeable future. Tillie makes a big decision. The sixteen-year-old girl marries Abe Levine, a seller of buttons, to stay in the city and get a proper education. Little does Tillie know about the difficulties that await her in the tenements where Abe brings his wife. Yet Tillie and her friend, Sadie Stern, start a new business based on a daring idea. Will two brave women succeed in a world full of prejudice?

In Threadbare, Jane Loeb Rubin invites us into the growing, changing New York at the end of the nineteenth century. We look at this magnificent city through the eyes of a bright and courageous young woman, Tillie Levine. The author reveals the complexity of the main character through her decisions. Although some of them may seem questionable, Tillie's upbeat spirit, work ethic, and determination to overcome any difficulty life throws her way win our hearts instantly. Mistreatment from garment companies' pompous representatives cannot intimidate this daughter of Jewish immigrants, who is proud of her heritage. The author gives us a clear picture of the garment industry's development in the late 1800s. The author touches on the social issues peculiar to that period and describes tenements with horrible living conditions. But there is a force that deals with these hardships. It's a supportive Jewish community with knowledgeable and energetic leaders. Jane offers outstanding insights into the historical realities of the past in the many breathtaking twists in the plot of this marvelous novel.

C.R. Hurst

As someone who looks upon her own family history as a source of inspiration and strength, I found Jane Loeb Rubin’s Threadbare an engaging read. The author uses her family history to create a fictionalized account of her Jewish ancestors’ struggle to achieve the American dream during the late 19th century, despite suffering poverty and prejudice. Rubin’s fearless protagonist, Tillie Isaacson Levine, marries young to a man far older than she. Tillie quickly matures into a woman of substance who, along with her husband and neighbor, establishes successful businesses in New York City’s burgeoning garment industry, in addition to her more traditional duties as a wife and mother. However, as her family, friends, and businesses thrive, she nevertheless finds that fate – and even her own heritage – has more challenges to conquer.

One of Threadbare’s greatest strengths lies in Jane Loeb Rubin’s ability to reconstruct a world little known to me, the Lower East Side of NYC. Her detailing of this notorious neighborhood, its Jewish culture and traditions, and even its button industry illustrate her passion for research. Another strength lies in the character development, especially of Tillie and her younger sister Hannah to whom she acts as a surrogate mother. Both women are hard-working, intelligent, and not afraid to challenge conventions and gender stereotypes during a time when few women did so. Nevertheless, some of the events that unfold in Threadbare can make for difficult reading, since the author never shrinks from showing how cruel fate can sometimes be. Still, as the quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, which Rubin uses to introduce her novel, explains: “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”