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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
This book is written in diary form, beginning in 1911. The
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.
I don't think this will appeal widely to students. I wanted to see how Janet's story would end which kept me reading.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :)