Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Joan wants to live a life like the heroines of her favorite books Jane Eyre and Ivanhoe but there is not much chance of that living on her father's farm and working like a dog to take care of him and her three brothers.  Joan's dad has even squashed her dream of becoming a schoolteacher by making her quit school and chasing off her former teacher who comes to visit.  When her father burns Joan's books she knows she has to leave to find a better life so she sneaks away and ends up in Baltimore where she lies about her age and manages to land a job as a hired girl making six dollars a week.  Joan is thrilled to be working for the Rosenbachs who seem to be living in the lap of luxury with electricity and carpet sweepers but that does not keep her from the drama any 14 year old in 1911 with a secret identity would face.  Joan writes about her struggles with religion, money and first love in her diary.


I enjoyed The Hired Girl throughout which is saying something since, as you know by now, historical fiction is not my preferred genre.  I had heard good things about it but I'd also heard that there was a lot of controversy about it so I was reading with an eye open to issues.  So far, most of the complaints about it I've read are discussing a few passages about Indians and Joan's insensitive, offhand comments about them.  What surprises me about this is that I have yet to read anything concerning Joan's comments about Jewish people or Catholics which is a large part of the story.  I'm sure those complaints are out there but they are not what comes up most readily when searching "hired girl controversy".  My point here is not really to comment on any of those issues other than to say that I was surprised there isn't MORE controversy out there about this title.  But I'm also a big believer in the fact that kids and teens don't bring the same stuff to a book that adults do.  In this case, that could be good or bad. 

Ignoring all that and just focusing on the story, I found Joan to be somewhat annoying and got frustrated by the mistakes she continued to make throughout.  I was also somewhat confused by Mrs. Rosenbach who definitely blew hot and cold toward Joan.  Finally, the entire resolution of things seemed quick and probably unrealistic given what had gone down and even though Joan was (mostly) not at fault.  But even with all of that, I enjoyed the story and wanted to know what was going to happen next. 

No comments:

Post a Comment