The Hired Girl

by Laura Amy Schlitz

Book, 2015



Call number




Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2015


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member foggidawn
It's 1911, and Joan is desperate for a better life. Ever since her mother died, she has been responsible for all of the "women's work" at Steeple Farm, and now that she's 14, her father expects her to leave school and work all the harder. Joan sees no end to the drudgery, and when a standoff with
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her father results in the burning of her few, prized books, she determines to run away. In Baltimore, Joan hopes to find work as a hired girl -- she may have to work just as hard as she would back on the farm, but she might make as much as six dollars a week! Of course, things don't go as smoothly as she might have hoped, and she finds herself in Baltimore after dark, alone and scared after a run-in with a man who means her no good. She's hesitant to trust another stranger when she's approached by gentle Solomon Rosenbach, who takes Joan home to meet his mother. The upshot of this encounter is that Joan, a devout Catholic girl, finds herself in the employ of the Jewish Rosenbachs. In the months that follow, Joan learns a great deal about the world, religion, love, and herself. She makes mistakes and learns from them, sees things she'd never dreamed about back on the farm, and develops a terrible crush on David Rosenbach, Solomon's younger brother! She also lies about her age, a falsehood that troubles her greatly -- but if the Rosenbachs knew she was just 14, would they send her back to her father?

I can hardly do this book justice in a review. I've heard it described as a modern classic, and I have to concur. Joan's naivete, her struggles to better herself, her foibles and insights, all ring so true and clear. I'm reminded of favorites like Anne of Green Gables. Schlitz's handling of religion in the story is impressive. The secondary characters, setting, plot -- oh, everything about this book is just so good! This is one of my rare five-star reads -- highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
A great children’s book about a 14-year-old Catholic girl who runs away from her dictatorial father and brothers and becomes a servant in the home of a Jewish family. Joan has a mind of her own and speaking her mind often gets her into trouble. She’s in love with one of the Jewish sons and
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friends with her master’s daughter. But most often her problem is her religion and how she wants to convert the Jewish family. Luckily, the father is quite wise and articulate, helping Joan to understand that there are different belief systems and they all have value.
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LibraryThing member eduscapes
THE HIRED GIRL by Laura Amy Schlitz is an engaging work of historical fiction aimed at tweens.

Set in 1911, fourteen-year old Joan runs away from her oppressive home in rural Pennsylvania hoping to reinvent herself as a hired girl in the city of Baltimore. Pretending to be an eighteen-year-old named
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Janet Lovelace, she lands a job as a housekeeper in a Jewish home. As she strives to learn more about her Catholic heritage, she also becomes familiar with Jewish tradition.

Most young readers will enjoy the conversational style of the diary format. With a hint of flirty romance and a focus on period clothing, librarians will find that the book is of more interest to girls than boys. However, it will have a wide readership among youth who enjoy reading the classics and are attracted to a protagonist who has a passion for reading.

Many works of fiction for youth avoid conversations about religion, however this novel is filled with thought-provoking discussions of culture, philosophy, and religion including concerns about anti-semitism and the role of religion in society.

Published by Candlewick on September 8, 2015.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This unique and affecting story is set in 1911 and told in the form of diary entries by 14-year-old Joan Skaggs. Soon after the story begins, Joan runs away from her psychologically abusive father (Joan's mother died when Joan was ten) and flees to Baltimore where she finds work as a house girl
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with the Rosenbach family.

Joan pretends to be 18 and changes her name to Janet Lovelace so the Rosenbachs would not be able to send her back to her family even if they found out her true age.

She works hard and has a positive influence on the family, as they have on her. But after all, she is still young girl, and often acts like one. She is especially confused not only by her newly developing hormones, but by needing to figure out right from wrong - in particular the conflict between her Catholic faith (and the advice of the local priest), and the Jewish faith of the Rosenbachs. Eventually, it all leads to potential disaster: the discovery of Janet’s actual age; her feelings for one of the flirtatious Rosenbach sons; the pressure Janet perceives from the priest to “proselytize” the Rosenbachs; the Rosenbachs' feelings of betrayal; and Janet’s uncertainty over her future.

The characters are all nicely drawn, and it is hard to pick which one is most endearing: Malka, the crusty grandmotherly-type housekeeper who comes to love Janet; Mimi Rosenbach, the bubbly 12-year-old daughter who is full of dreams to achieve more than is usually open to girls; Mr. Rosenbach, who acknowledges Janet’s potential and helps her; Mrs. Rosenbach, who is at turns generous, harsh, and wise; or of course the heroine - brave, resourceful, and good-hearted Janet, who longs for a better future for herself that is full of love and learning.

Evaluation: This book is very well-done. It is at times heart-breaking, but the story also offers warmth, hope, character growth, and a subtle underlying humor. The author has won several awards for books for young readers in the past, and I imagine this book will draw much positive attention as well. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member libsue
Well written. Overly long. Yet another award winner for young adults that I think lacks appeal.
LibraryThing member sgrame
Joan Skraggs runs away from her home at the age of 14. Her mom is dead, she works very hard for no gain on the family's small farm and her father shows her no love, and even burns the books her teacher gives her. She does have a secret stash of cash her mother worked hard to save for her and Joan
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takes it and runs off to Baltimore to try to find employment as a hired girl. Through providence, she ends up with a wealthy Jewish family who not only gives her a job and room and board, but even the run of the large house library after the family retires each evening. Joan documents her daily activities, her deepest thoughts and feelings through this diary of her life in 1911. A coming-of-age story, the well-developed character grows from a child to someone who has hope for a future of more than a hired girl. An excellent choice for a girls 'book discussion- grades 5-8.
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LibraryThing member Kris_Anderson
I just finished The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schiltz. It is a children’s book that is written in the style of a journal/diary. Joan Skraggs is fourteen years old in 1911. She lives on Steeple Hill Farm with her father and three brothers. Her mother passed away about four years previously. Joan’s
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father has decided that she cannot continue with school (and that she does not need it to keep house). As a going away gift her teacher, Miss Chandler gives her a blank book to write in. Joan is actually quite intelligent and learns quickly (but she is very naïve in the ways of the world). Joan’s father does not allow her any money, not even the egg money. Joan decides to go on strike. Her father retaliates by burning her three books (classics she received from Miss Chandler). Joan has decided she cannot take it on the farm any longer and plans to run away. Her mother had given her a doll (named Belinda) with money sewn into her apron. Joan’s mother told her it was for an emergency (I think she knew that Joan would need to get away at some point).

Joan escapes and heads to Baltimore. After a scary incident, Joan is rescued by Solomon Rosenbach. Solomon takes Joan home to his parents’ house. Joan tells Mrs. Rosenbach that she is eighteen and her name is Janet Lovelace. She is hired as a maid to assist their elderly housekeeper, Malka (very set in her ways). The Rosenbach’s are Jewish and Joan has to learn about Orthodox Jews (two sinks, two refrigerators, two sets of dishes, etc.). Joan proceeds to write about her new life in the Rosenbach household. Learning about fashion (from the Rosenbach’s youngest daughter, handling money, seeing the opera, access to the families library (she loves to read), being careful with candles (she sets her hair on fire), and about religion. Joan was raised by a Catholic mother and she wishes to be baptized into the church. Joan is young (emotionally immature) and naïve so she is going to make mistakes. Joan’s ultimate goal is to be a schoolteacher. Will she be able to achieve her goal?

I found The Hired Girl to be an interesting book. The writer did a very good job writing it as though a fourteen year old girl was actually writing about her life. It is very easy to read and there are many laughs in the book. I think young girls (between nine and thirteen) will enjoy reading The Hired Girl. It provides a glimpse into the life of a maid in a Jewish household in 1911. I give The Hired Girl 4 out of 5 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of The Hired Girl from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.
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LibraryThing member knitwit2
When I started reading this book I thought immediately of “O Pioneers” by Willa Cather. The images that Ms. Schlitz evokes are intense and vivid. The hard work expected of women and girls is unimaginable by today’s standards. Joan, the wonderful heroine of this story wants more from life than
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toiling on a farm for a family of men who dismiss her at every turn. Joan is encouraged by her mother from a young age to learn and to possibly become a teacher and break away from this very hard life. Shortly after her mother passes away Joan’s hateful and selfish father (this description may understate how awful he was) forces her to leave school at age 14. Prior to this her beloved teacher, Miss Chandler recognized potential in Joan and gave her books and a journal that would become not only cherished possessions but also a place for her mind to retreat to and thus escape the reality of the farm. Eventually, Joan does escape the farm – literally (but I won’t tell you how even though I want to – I don’t want to ruin it for you!). She travels from her home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore where she secures work as a “hired girl” with a Jewish family. Joan, who by then has changed her name to Janet is welcomed (reluctantly by some members) into the Rosenbach household and that’s when the story really takes off. She out of her element, she knows nothing of cities or Judaism - thank goodness she’s a hard worker and loves to learn!
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LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Joan/Janet's voice is appealing in its youthful yearning and earnestness, keeping me invested in her journey of bettering herself. She and the other characters (particularly Malka) are vividly drawn. The conflicts and misunderstandings of working for a Jewish family are often funny (especially when
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old Malka gets on her case) but sturdy Janet always gets back up after falling down. As historical fiction, readers are drawn into the details of upper class family life in the early 20th century as well as what it's like to work for such people. I did find Janet's path from farmer's daughter to hired girl a bit too smooth and easy, but for teen readers with a bent for Downton Abbey, all the better to cut to the chase.
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LibraryThing member ChristianR
I first picked this up because there had been some controversy about some of the language in it -- about American Indians. By the time I got the book and started reading it I had forgotten what the controversy was and I never even noticed the passage. I didn't think it was anything that should have
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been called out.
I enjoyed the book. It was very readable and I got quite caught up in it. The protagonist, Joan, is a 14-year-old who runs away from her intolerable home and luckily becomes a maid in a wealthy Jewish home in Baltimore. She is Catholic and the attention in the book both to her Catholicism (her deceased mother was a Catholic) and to the Jewish faith of the family is excellent. My caveat is that I can't really see any young girl pulling off what she did in such a grown-up way. But maybe if it had been written for adults it would have been less rosy and the girl would have been less plucky.
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LibraryThing member lilibrarian
After her father removes her from school, 14-year-old Joan runs away from the farm where she is expected to do all the women's work and care for her father and four brothers. Pretending to be 18, she finds work as a hired girl in a Jewish household. Holding on to her dream of studying and being a
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teacher, she keeps a detailed diary of her life as a serving girl and of the family she works for.
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LibraryThing member imtanner2
This is a story about a 14 year old girl who runs away from home to seek her fortune as a hired girl. Set in 1911, it has some very interesting themes of education, religion, art, and telling the truth.
LibraryThing member TBE
14-year old Joan is such a charming, optimistic, lovable narrator. All she wants is to learn and explore the world. When her father forbids her to even go to school and burns her books, she has no choice but to run away and find a place for herself elsewhere. Joan lands as a hired girl in a Jewish
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home where she soon becomes a meddling, overinvolved, but well-loved family member.
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LibraryThing member clue
[The Hired Girl] by Laura Amy Schlitz is a historical YA novel. It has won several well deserved awards including the 2016 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Children's and YA Literature.

This book is written in diary form, beginning in 1911. The
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diarist is 14 years old, motherless, and living on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania with her father and three brothers. After the death of her mother, Jane's father forces her to leave her beloved school and teacher, and take on "the woman's work" on the farm. The work is thankless, brutal, and never ending. While she works, Jane dreams about the heroines she knows from the few novels she's read, and longs for a heroine's life.

After a particularly harsh incident with her father, Jane runs away, trying not to dwell on what he will do if he catches her. She makes her way to Baltimore on secret money her mother had sewn in a doll's dress. She has heard that "hired girls" do very well in Baltimore although she knows nothing about how to find a job or even what hired girls do. By luck she is befriended by a member of a wealthy Jewish family after he finds her sleeping on a park bench her first night in Baltimore. She is given a job in this family's home and she continues to write in her diary through her (and their) first tumultuous year.

In Jane, Schlitz created a lovable, maddening character. She's worthy of cheers and cringes as she learns about the world and life beyond the borders of the farm.
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LibraryThing member ewyatt
It's 1911 and Joan/Janet can no longer bear her life on the family farm with her cruel father and three brothers. She goes on the run with money her mom left before her death hidden and sewn in an apron. She ends up on the streets of Baltimore and the young, Catholic girl becomes a hired girl
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working for a Jewish family. The book is written as her daily diary of her experiences.
I don't think this will appeal widely to students. I wanted to see how Janet's story would end which kept me reading.
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LibraryThing member mcintorino
The Hired Girl is an engrossing book told in diary form. Joan aka Janet has to leave her family farm because of the cruelty and insensitivity of her father. Her journey to Baltimore, and the life she creates there form the heart of the book. "Janet" encounters Judaism for the first time, and learns
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to adjust to the customs followed by her employers. She receives kindness and understanding from many of the family members. Joan also blunders along the way as she struggles with her own Catholicism, her place in the household, and the feelings that a first crush can bring. Joan's strong and intelligent voice brings credibility and interest as she tells her own story and thoughts in her own words.

This book would be a good fit for a reader interested in the early 1900s and life during that time period. It would be a good book for readers interested in a strong, young protagonist who encounters hardship and obstacles but manages to overcome them. It is also a good book to introduce readers to some of the customs that are part of a Jewish household.
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LibraryThing member CInacio
Interesting look at the life of a hired girl. The author did a good job of making the book feel authentic through the language and also crafting it as the diary of a young girl, including all of the silly things that go through a barely teenage girl's head when writing accounts in a diary.
LibraryThing member jothebookgirl
It is June 4, 1911, Joan Skraggs has told her teacher, Miss Chandler, she will not be attending school any longer. Joan's father has decided it is more important for her to take care of the house and chickens than for her to have an education. Joan is heartbroken because she loved the school and
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Miss Chandler. Miss Chandler has given Joan a diary as a going away gift.

Joan lives with her father and brothers where she slaves doing "the women's work." Her father is a hard man whose only concern is with money. The only one who ever loved her has died, her mother. Joan's mother had been allowed by her husband, to keep the money she earned from selling eggs, so Joan thought she should now receive that money. Her father refuses, saying he did not have to pay for raising Joan's mother but he had to pay for raising Joan. Joan decides to stage a partial strike. She refuses to cook for him and her brothers and stopped cleaning their filthy rooms. After having a yelling match with her father, her father burnt Joan's most prized possessions, her books. Fortunately her father has never physically hurt his daughter, only mental cruelty.

After her books had been burned Joan decides to leave the farm for good. Joan's mother was unhappy in her life and wanted more for her daughter. She told Joan she could become a teacher. With great foresight, She had sewn money into the apron of a doll she had made for Joan, so she could one day leave her miserable life behind.

Boldly, Joan boards a train taking it first to Lancaster, then caught a train to Philadelphia, and finally rode a third train, to her final destination of Baltimore. She had planned to find work in Baltimore as a hired girl. A hired girl is a person who does cleaning and maid duties in households of wealthy families. Her plan started out fine, but the train was severely delayed and reached Baltimore too late to find a room at a boarding house, so Joan decided to sleep in the park and start her plan the next day. Solomon Rosenbach found her on the park bench cold and crying. He offered to take her home with him. He assured her he was a respectable man who lived with his parents, fortunately for Joan he was telling her the truth. At this point, Joan had already decided to change her name from Joan Skraggs to Janet Lovelace and she told Solomon she was eighteen years old, instead of her real age of fourteen.

Solomon's mother not only allowed Janet to stay the night, but she also offered her a position as a hired girl. Janet had to pass a trial period first, in order to keep the job. The Rosenbachs had a housekeeper named Malka, who was in her 70's, and Janet had to prove she could live up to the standards Malka had set for the household. Malta had fired many other girls who were unable to get along with her, but Janet likes Malta.. Janet did not realize the family was Jewish until Mrs. Rosenbach told her they were. She didn't have any prejudices against working for a Jewish family, even though Janet was Catholic. She did have a lot to learn about how a Jewish household was run, for instance they had to store meats and dairy foods separately and even wash the dishes these foods were on in separate sinks and with separate dish clothes. She also had to learn how to help prepare the house for Shabbos and various holidays.

Janet also needed to learn how to behave as a servant. She at first felt she could speak to the family members as she would anyone else. She was told by Malka and Mrs. Rosenbach she could not do this, instead she had to be deferential to the family members. Mr. Rosenbach was impressed by Joan's intelligence and eagerness to learn and read. He allowed her access to the books in the family library and helped to guide her education.

Mirele, the Rosenbach's 12 year old daughter, decided to befriend Janet. She wished for a girl to confide in and to have as a friend, so she took Janet shopping at the department store her father owns. Mrs. Rosenbach did not approve of her daughter and Janet going shopping together. It did not look good for her to socialize with the hired girl.

During this time Janet had started to attend mass once again; her father would not allow her to attend church once her mother had died. She even began taking confirmation lessons from Father Horst, who was not happy about Janet living with and working for a Jewish family.

David, the twenty-one year old son of the Rosenbach's, arrived home from New York, where he studied painting. He decided Janet would be a perfect model for a painting of Joan of Arc he was working on. He showed too much attention to Janet and even went so far as to kiss her. She thought she was in love with him. This causes complications when one night, Janet went to his room to tell him her true feelings, thinking he felt the same way about her. Malta heard them talking, confronted her and began screaming at Joan summoning the entire family to David's room. Thinking there was a lot more going on than talking, Mrs. Rosenbach decides that Janet must be fired. Miele has read Janet's diary, and reveals the truths of her past; her name is Joan and she is only 14 years old. These facts lead to Joan being assigned to work for the Rosenbach's married daughter.

This book shows the differences between the social-economic classes in 1911. It also gives insight into how people of both Christian and Jewish faiths viewed each other. Joan, because of her innocence and lack of preconceived notions, lacks any prejudice against people of differing circumstance. She shows how a young girl learns to navigate the social and religious paths of her times.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Joan Skraggs begins to keep a diary after her beloved school teacher gives her a journal in 1911. She is a miserable 14-year-old girl who lives on a farm with an unloving father and several indifferent brothers. But after her father burns the three books she owns - her most valued possessions, she
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runs away from the farm and escapes to Baltimore, where she plans to get a job as a hired girl - though she has no idea how to go about doing that.
As she lays on a park bench that first night, terrified and crying, a kind young man approaches her. In no time, she finds that has lied about her age (telling them she is 18) to the man's family, and they do take her on as their new hired girl.
The bulk of the book is what follows. The family is Jewish, and Joan is Catholic. She learns a great deal about Judaism, and her own beliefs as well. She is at heart a romantic, but also a bit of a philosopher, and she learns and grows significantly during the time she spends with the Rosenbach family.
Beautifully written, as all of Schlitz' books are, with a flawless sense of the period.
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LibraryThing member fromthecomfychair
The year is 1911. Joan Skraggs (aka Janet Lovelace) is a 14 year old Pennsylvania farm girl who toils for her family without love or thanks, following the death of her beloved mother. In today's world, her father might be termed verbally and emotionally abusive as welling as unloving. Joan is
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forced to drop out of school to tend house on the farm. When she asks her father for the "egg money" from tending the chickens, he responds by burning the only three books she owns. Plucky Joan takes her few worldly possessions, including money her mother saved for her, and escapes to Baltimore, where she is rescued from a park bench by a young Jewish man. He takes her home and she is hired by the wealthy family to help their aging housekeeper, after telling them she is 18 and inventing an alias for herself.

As a devout Catholic, Janet is learning for the first time about Judaism through the close-knit, loving family she works for. She makes some blunders, including attempting to convert a grandchild, and falling in love with the one of the sons, a charming artist, and imagining them running away together. She befriends the clever daughter, who is in reality only two years younger than she is. The father in the family allows her to read his books, and engages in discussions with her. Through her diary entries, we follow her through a season in her young life and watch her grow up.

I loved that the language she used was in keeping with the times, and her love of Jane Eyre. Sometimes young adult historical fiction aims to appeal to teens by speaking in their language instead of the language of the time period in which the story is set. The period details in this historical novel really bring it to life as well. I didn't want this story to end. Though it is written for middle school and up, I was thoroughly engaged by it.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
The wonderful memoir-style story of a stubborn, intelligent girl making her way in 1911. The story is full of thoughtful moments -- about religion, self-determination, confidence, meddling (and consequences), love, education and hard, hard work. Inspiring and excellent in pacing, characters and a
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beautifully immersive setting. One cannot help but admire Joan's spirit, even as we cringe at her mistakes, innocent and honest though they may be. Hard to put down.

Also, Joan's commentary on why a cat is better than a sweetheart is hilarious -- ultimately there is a lack of fur that just can't be got around. :)
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LibraryThing member Jennie_103
A lovely absorbing read which uses the naivety of a girl, newly escaped from her family farm, to show up the anti-Semitism in turn of the century America. Janet is very naïve but eager both for work and for space to read and learn, and quickly fits into the Rosenbach household with the elderly,
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cranky Malka in the kitchen, the quick-silver Miriam, the thoughtful son Solomon and even the hyperactive, snake loving grandchild Oskar. Naturally she makes a few mistakes along the way, but the biggest of all is falling in love with the artistic son, David, when he asks her to model for his drawing of Joan of Arc. Eventually a resolution is found which suits everyone – and enables Janet to finish her education without reading at midnight!
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Original publication date



076367818X / 9780763678180

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