BookPage Teen Top Pick, September 2015
In the town of Steeple Chase, Pennsylvania, there’s not much for a poor farm girl other than a life of looming drudgery. And this is why, in The Hired Girl, the farmer’s daughter wises up and escapes the farm toil, striking out on her own to push back against the societal, cultural and patriarchal confines that threaten the rest of her days.
At only 14 years old, Joan Skraggs abandons her miserable life to forge a new one in the big city. She tried for years to live under her vicious father’s tyranny, but after her mother’s death, he became too uncaring and unbearable. So in the summer of 1911, yearning for adventures similar to those of her favorite literary heroines, Joan boards a train to Baltimore with the money her deceased mother once hid away for her only daughter. Assuming the “ladylike” name of Janet Lovelace and dressing to pass for 18 and old enough to find work, Joan is kindly hired by a wealthy Jewish family in high-society Baltimore. As she lives with and works for the Rosenbachs, she learns the hard way just what is required of her if she hopes to climb the social ladder.
Using Joan’s diary as the narrative vehicle, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) gives the reader a rare view of how the other half lived in early 20th-century America. By providing a hard line into Joan’s (sometimes naïve) interior thoughts, Schlitz engenders a loving and comedic exploration of feminism, work ethic, cultural persecution and religious differences.
Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.