I have been a big fan of Laura Amy Schlitz since listening to the audio version of her novel Splendors and Glooms. So when I saw her latest novel- The Hired Girl– on the young adult news release shelf at the library, I was very excited.
This is the story of Joan Skraggs, a fourteen-year-old girl living in rural Pennsylvania in 1911. She is heartbroken at having to leave school to work on her father’s farm. She feels that her efforts are not appreciated, and inspired by an article she read in a newspaper, she goes on strike. Her father retaliates by burning her books. Joan runs away from home; she also read in the newspaper that people are paying $6 a week for hired girls. She makes her way to Baltimore, and ends up in the home of the Rosenbach family. She lies and claims to be 18, and is hired to assist Malka, the aging housekeeper. Joan- who has taken the name Janet- has never met anyone Jewish before, but she is eager to learn.
The story unfolds through Joan’s diary entries. She is very grateful to have found a position, and that the family treats her so well. She especially appreciates that Mr. Rosenbach has given her permission to read books in his library at night after her work is done. She tries her best to show her gratitude to the Rosenbachs, but things often go awry. Joan is often petulant about this, but aren’t all fourteen-year-old girls petulant? As the story progresses, Joan develops a special relationship with each of the Rosenbachs, and proves to be an integral part of the family. But what would happen if they were to find out that she is only fourteen years old and a runaway?
I thought that this was an absolutely marvelous book. Joan is very insightful. She is always looking for ways to better herself and further her education, and she appreciates the opportunities she has received. It is very poignant to see her journey of self-discovery: from her first trip to a department store where she spends her own money, to her conversations with the local Catholic priest as she explores her late mother’s faith. Joan is also horrified to discover anti-Semitism, and fiercely defends her host family.
I would absolutely recommend The Hired Girl. I loved that the story was filled with historical details, and that it was written in a very authentic style for the time period. Joan is a very memorable character, and I am definitely going to look for my own copy of the book once I return this one to the library.