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The Hired Girl Hardcover – September 8, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs is a reluctant drudge on her family's farm, and no one appreciates her. She pours her thoughts and emotions into her diary, which is the lens through which readers experience her life. And life on her family's 1911 hardscrabble Pennsylvania farm grinds on endlessly. She loves to read and longs for more education, but is trapped by her circumstances. Her boorish father pushes Joan too far the day he burns her best friends—her books. Soon afterward, she escapes and makes her way to Baltimore. She is taken in by a wealthy Jewish family as a hired girl. They are like no family she has ever met; their affection, religion, and education bind them into a warm unit totally foreign to Joan. She grows to love the family and is surprised and hurt to learn of anti-Semitism. She learns—sometimes through near disaster—about keeping kosher, navigating social classes, and first love. Her world expands as she encounters art, music, and literature. Joan is a well-defined character who makes impetuous, sometimes humorous, mistakes like any teenager. Her diary is written with the emotions and thoughts of a teen, but with the literary structure of one trying to affect an older and more educated sensibility. Readers are treated to a domestic education as Joan describes the incredible amount of work required to keep house in the early 20th century. Coming-of-age drama and deeper questions of faith, belonging, and womanhood are balanced with just the right blend of humor. VERDICT A wonderful look into the life of strong girl who learns that she needs the love of others to truly grow up.—Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI
The beauty of this novel is that it dares to go beyond the school-is-cruel and paranormal-dystopian-romance conventions and lets its adolescent heroine think on the page about what makes a human being whole: art, love, faith, education, family, friendship.
—The New York Times Book Review
Written as a diary, the first-person narrative brings immediacy to Joan’s story and intimacy to her confessions and revelations. The distinctive household setting and the many secondary characters are well developed, while Joan comes alive on the page as a vulnerable, good-hearted, and sometimes painfully self-aware character struggling to find her place in the world. A memorable novel from a captivating storyteller.
—Booklist (starred review)
The diary format allows Joan's romantic tendencies full rein, as well as narrative latitude for a few highly improbable scenarios and wildly silly passion. Tons of period details, especially about clothing, round out a highly satisfying and smart breast-clutcher from this Newbery-winning author.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Joan is reminiscent of heroines like Anne Shirley, Jo March, Cassandra Mortmain, and her own favorite character, Jane Eyre...Her overactive imagination, passions, and impulsive disregard for propriety often get Joan into trouble, but these same qualities will endear her to readers everywhere.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Coming-of-age drama and deeper questions of faith, belonging, and womanhood are balanced with just the right blend of humor. A wonderful look into the life of strong girl who learns that she needs the love of others to truly grow up.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
The book is framed as Joan’s diary, and her weaknesses, foibles, and naiveté come through as clearly—and as frequently—as her hopes, dreams, and aspirations...by the end readers feel as if they’ve witnessed the real, authentic growth of a memorable young woman.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
Fans of Little Women, rejoice. Janet's impassioned diary, inspired by Schlitz's own grandmother's journals, explores themes of faith and feminism, love and literature, culture and class in early 20th-century America, all the while charming readers with a vivid cast of characters.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
What a heroine, not just for the early 20th century, which Ms. Schlitz skillfully evokes through Janet’s impressions, but also for our own time. An unsophisticated girl who thirsts for education, an impulsive idealist who, when she errs, passionately seeks to put things right: Janet Lovelace is an utterly endearing young woman on whom not a second of youth, it seems, will be wasted. Brava to Laura Amy Schlitz, whose enchanting writing has brought such a spectacular character to young people’s literature.
—The Wall Street Journal
An enlightening portrayal of a young girl’s struggle to assert herself at a time when women’s rights were just beginning to be established...Joan’s strength and determination, despite the expectations of a young woman’s attitude and behavior at the time, are inspiring to young readers. Readers of all ages will find her an appealing heroine.
...fans, who appreciate historical fiction as intelligent as it is entertaining, will be well pleased.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Joan is a true heroine with whom readers are sure to sympathize, and her exciting and humorous adventures will keep readers engaged. Written in diary form with the Voctorian eloquence reflecting Joan's love of Jane Eyre, this novel is sure to inspire girls of any background and lead to greater understanding of Jews and Judaism.
—Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
[Joan's] strong voice allows the reader to understand and sympathize with her feelings and dilemmas. This is a book which can open up discussion on religious tolerance, cultural class distinctions, and women’s rights.
—School Library Connection
[Joan's] determined earnestness will lead readers to root for her...
An unusual novel, brilliantly executed, this book is well worth the reader’s time and will not be easily forgotten.
—Jewish Book Council
"The Hired Girl" is a tender, utterly captivating story about a girl grasping onto small kindnesses and trying to better herself—a classic American story.
—San Antonio Express-News
Top customer reviews
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Once there, alone and confused, Joan manages to land herself a hired girl position with a wealthy Jewish family. She details her experiences, both with her work and the assorted household members, as well as general details about life in 1911 from the perspective of a young woman in a diary.
As Joan is taking catechism classes to become an official Catholic, while working hard to understand the intricate details of an orthodox Jewish household, there is also a great deal of thought and discussion about religion. Schlitz addresses the subject with intelligence and compassion, in a way that both complex yet easily understood by adolescent readers.
A sequel about the next phase of Joan's life (not mentioned here specifically so as not to spoil the book's ending) would definitely be a welcome addition!
Joan's voice is strong and authentic throughout the novel. The prose at times is lush and quite lyrical. Life in early 1900's Baltimore is replete with details that make this time period come to life. The struggles with identity, religious differences and prejudice, the pain of young love, a class system hard to escape are all interwoven in this novel.
I also loved all the literary allusions to such works as "Jane Eyre" and Charles Dickens appropriate for the time period.
"The Hired Girl" in my opinion, ranks alongside "A Northern Light" by Jennifer Connelly and Carolyn Meyer's "Harvey Girls." Highly recommended!
The ending is quite anticlimactic, with little sense of the girl's character development or much of anything else leading up to it.
I only finished the book because it was being read by my bookclub.