Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Released: 8th September 2015
Published by: Candlewick Press
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher 
Pages: 400
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Today Miss Chandler gave me this beautiful book. I vow that I will never forget her kindness to me, and I will use this book as she told me to—that I will write in it with truth and refinement…

But who could be refined living at Steeple Farm? 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. Inspired by her grandmother’s journal, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sharp wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a comedic tour de force destined to become a modern classic.

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!) takes its reader on an exploration of feminism and housework, religion and literature, love and loyalty, cats, hats, bunions, and burns.
Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

My books promised me that life wasn't just made up of workaday tasks and prosaic things. The world is bigger and more colorful and more important than that. Maybe not here at Steeple Farm, but somewhere. It has to be.

The Hired Girl is a delightful piece of YA historical fiction; a story of one girl's quest for a better life outside the confines of her prior existence, and learning more about herself and others along the way. Told in an epistolary form, this book takes us right into the heart of our protagonist Joan's mind as she eventually finds a home with the Rosenbach's as their new maid. In this new setting she discovers what it's like to live with people from another cultural/religious background, as well as adjust to the new way of living this means for her without compromising her own identity. 

This is the type of historical fiction novel which does a really good job of mimicking the style of other works from the time, in that it reads like a classic. Joan (or 'Janet' as she comes to call herself) is a teenage girl who longs for an education which a hard life on a struggling farm with her father and brothers could not provide. Even if you don't typically read books in this style, the first person diary entries were endearing, and I'm sure we can all appreciate her love for books and reading which we share too!

In her new workplace with the Rosenbach's, a Jewish family, 'Janet' must prove herself with hard work and following rules surrounding kosher and such. It's not often that you see YA books which really provide insight into Judaism and what it means on a daily basis. This made for an interesting read, since I learned a few things about it myself, and it's clear that the author had done research to be as accurate as possible. Getting to know the family, from David the handsome son to Malka the original maid, led to a few interesting twists in between. Though for the most part this is very much a character driven novel and Joan's prose was at times longwinded, the characters all developed well and Janet finally realised what she really wanted out of her life. 

Another interesting note to make is of the pieces of artwork acting as designs to mark each 'part' of the book. These were wonderful in adding to that historic feel and set the scene well. At the back of the book is a list of their details so if you want to see them in colour you can check that out too. 


Overall, I really enjoyed The Hired Girl. On an unrelated point, It seemed somewhat appropriate that after I finished it I went to go and see Fiddler on the Roof! This is a story about religion and culture, accepting the kindness of others, and making the most of life's opportunities. 

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