Hired Girl, The

Laura Amy Schlitz
Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.


Reviewed: 2019-04-11

Schlitz is an expert at characterization. Reading though, I felt such anger towards Joan's father that I wanted to reach through the book and give him a piece of my mind. Of course, everything that he said was proper to the time. What does Joan need with an education, when she has a family to care for? When he yells at the dinner table, ""You'd better jump," he snarled. "You'd better jump, and you'd better cower, if you're going to come pestering me for that egg money."" I was frightened for Joan, and for her brothers. I could feel her pain dripping off each page as she stood against each cruel word her father spoke. The plot did not slow from there, but picked up pace. I was continually urged onward, right up until the end. Along the way each character sprang to life bringing with them meaningful dialogue and action. The settings were important to the novel as Joan moves from city to country, so does her outlook on life change as the settings reflected both who she is and what she wanted to become. At no point does this coming-of-age historical novel  make the reader feel lost in the world of 1911, but a part of it. Since Joan was an outsider to city life in the the time, and the book is written as a diary, the reader is able to learn with Joan as she navigates this new and confusing life as a hired girl. The authenticity of this story is to be praised, right down to Joan attempting to convert a young member of the family to Catholicism "the True faith" as she calls it. This moment in the book teaches Joan and young readers about the arrogance that can be found by holding one's own beliefs in higher regard than another's. Once Joan learns about the persecution of the Jews and takes down her crucifix for the sake of the housekeeper, she writes, "Even though taking Him down is a little bit like being persecuted, it isn't the kind of persecution where babies are torn apart in the street." This lesson would be particularly relevant to a young audience today. This understanding, that there are different types of suffering and that we should care about the history of other's is vital to the development of empathy and I believe that a classroom audience would be receptive to it, especially if it were taught along with more current immigrant stories. Even though I found Joan to be overly naive, I cared for her and wanted her to succeed. I was a fish on a hook, Schlitz had me enthralled.

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