The Hired Girl by 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. Follow 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.The Hired Girl

I picked up The Hired Girl simply because of all the starred reviews and awards it was receiving. I didn’t read the synopsis before I dove in, and I’m glad. I’m not usually one for historical fiction, or stories that heavily feature religion but The Hired Girl worked for me. I now understand all the hype!

The story is told in diary format by our charming and optimistic narrator, fourteen year old, Catholic Joan Skraggs. It’s 1911, and her father is wicked cruel and demands everyone earn their keep on the farm. Joan loves learning, so when he forbids her from school and burns her books, she runs away in search for a better life. Joan, renames herself Janet Lovelace, pretends she is 18 and lands a job as a hired girl in a Jewish home.

My favourite aspect of the book was the dynamics between Janet and her employers (the Rosenbach family- and of course, Malka.) Although Janet has a strong work ethic, she quickly becomes over-involved and finds herself in trouble on numerous occasions. It’s during these moments when her true age shows. However, since Janet is such a spirited character, it’s hard not to root for her from beginning to end. The strong cast of secondary characters all help Janet learn tough lessons about love, tolerance and respecting religious beliefs.

I loved that The Hired Girl was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s journal. Overall, the story that Laura Amy Schlitz has crafted is an engaging, thought provoking and a definite must read!

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