The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Published by Candlewick 

Summary:  14-year-old Joan Skraggs lives on her father’s farm with three older brothers, and records daily life in 1911 in a journal.  Since her mother’s death a few years previously, Joan has been doing all the housework on the farm.  Her father is a brute; the last straw for Joan is when he burns her three beloved books that were given to her by her teacher before she was forced to leave school.  She makes up her mind to run away, and in a well-planned escape, makes her way to Baltimore.  Unfortunately, her plans end there.  She is sitting on a bench with night falling, when she is rescued by Solomon Rosenthal, a young Jewish man whose wealthy family runs a department store.  Taken on as the Rosenthals’ hired girl, Joan finds a home filled with love, beauty, and books.  Pretending to be 18, she falls in love with younger son David, and finds innumerable ways to get in trouble with every member of the family.  Joan’s loving heart triumphs in the end, though, and with the help of the Rosenthals, she is well on the way to making a better life for herself as she reaches the final pages of her journal.  392 pages; ages 11-15.

Pros:  Readers will cheer for Joan (who wisely changes her name to Janet when she leaves home), a strong but impetuous girl whose roller-coaster emotions will be familiar to 21st-century teenagers.  The historical details are interesting, too; running a household in 1911, not to mention a kosher one, was not for the faint of heart.

Cons:  The story bogs down a bit once Joan is settled in Baltimore and writes in great details about her longing for David Rosenthal and her religious struggles.

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