Corman, Leela.  Unterzakhn.   2012.  204 p.  Schocken Books, $25 (978-0805242591).  Gr. 10-up.

In this stark graphic novel, Fanya and Esther are twins growing up in a Lower East Side tenement at the turn of the last century.  Their mother is a shrewd businesswoman who denies the girls an education.  Their father has been beaten down by life’s disappointments.  The girls are often left to their own devices to take care of themselves and make sense of their world.
Fast forward to their teen years and adulthood.  Fanya has started to work for a “lady doctor” who provides illegal abortions and advocates contraception (but only for married women).  Esther has gone to work for a madam, first as a scullery maid, but later as a prostitute.  Neither girl understands the others choices, but they are connected by a bond that they cannot shake.
Feminist content–the twins are resourceful and persevere in a male dominated, dangerous environment.  Although Esther’s choices can be viewed with derision, her desire to be an independent woman is her guiding passion. Not an easy commentary, but one that is a surprisingly strong feminist manifesto.

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