Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in November 2015 Part VI

What I Read in November 2015 Part VI ...

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz-- Young Adult Historical Fiction

The Hired Girl Joan Skaggs is tired of being a drudge on her father's farm. She dreams of becoming uplifted and enlightened to become a teacher like her idol, Miss Chandler. It was Miss Chandler who first introduced Joan to books. Joan owns three books: Jane Eyre, Dombey and Son and Ivanhoe. She's read them all many times and longs for more. Her beloved mother understood but her mother is dead, leaving Joan's father and brothers to make a slave of her. When the situation at home becomes intolerable, Joan finally takes a stand. When the stand-off threatens to destroy her dreams, Joan takes off. She finds herself in Baltimore living under a new identity as a hired girl, Janet Lovelace. As a hired girl she can make as much as $6 a week for doing the same or fewer chores she had on the farm. Throughout the course of a year from 1911-1912 Joan writes in her diary of all she experiences and feels, of all her hopes and dreams for her future and how they are and aren't coming true.

This book is for fans of Anne of Green Gables, Daddy-Long-Legs and Jane Eyre. It's very long for a YA historical fiction book - almost 400 pages - but the pace moves quickly enough to be interesting and move the plot along. The first section is a little long before it comes to the exciting part and there's a whole lot about religion, but the religious content is woven into the plot as part of the characters and how they relate to one another and the world around them. There's a message there but it's not heavy handed. A little quibble about Janet's religious instruction. She would have to be baptized before she was confirmed and took her first communion. I'm not sure how that worked in 1911. I did like the details about Mass being in Latin and the priest's back to the congregation. I don't know how many young readers would know that unless their grandparents told them or their teachers tell them. The details about work in 1911 are also very rich and descriptive. Even with modern labor-saving devices, being a hired girl was still a lot of work. The ending of the novel reminded me a lot of Daddy Long-Legs, again probably on purpose.

Joan/Janet is very silly but in a charming, naive way. She writes like Anne Shirley talks- probably on purpose on the part of the author. I didn't see much growth until the last third of the book but it was there earlier, just too subtle to really realize. I found Joan/Janet very likable and could relate to her dream world. I think all teenage girls will be able to relate to her in many respects. Her family is completely horrible and a bit on the stereotypical side but Father acts as a catalyst for the action. I liked how her romance played out. It was very realistic.

The Rosenbachs are very progressive for their day - maybe a little too much to be completely accurate but they're so progressive they appear modern. They do have their prejudices regarding class, religion and ethnicity. They are a loving family and the parents just want their children to be happy. Their faith is important to them and an integral part of their lives but I felt that it was maybe a little too much for German Jews at that time. Mimi is annoying but I liked her for the most part. I agree with Janet's feelings about her and it's too bad Mimi hates reading because she's so much like Amy March! Maybe by the time she finishes Little Women she'll figure that out.

I highly recommend this book to readers 12+, especially those who love Anne of Green Gables and Daddy-Long-Legs.

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