Ever since you were a child, you’ve had dreams to fulfill.
Some of them may have been easy: You wanted to visit a theme park, you hoped for a puppy, you wanted another no-school day. Other dreams, though, were challenging – so much so that maybe they haven’t happened yet. And, as in the new novel “The Hired Girl” by Laura Amy Schlitz, you’ll hang onto them until they do.
Miss Chandler knew that Joan Skraggs was special.
She never said that, exactly, but Joan knew her teacher thought so. Miss Chandler was always pressing new books into Joan’s willing hands, and they conversed like good friends. That meant the world to 14-year-old Joan. It was something she looked forward to very much, until Father said she couldn’t go to school anymore, that she was needed on the farm.
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It was 1911, Joan’s mother was dead, and Joan was the cooking-cleaning-washerwoman of the house. She barely had clothes to wear; her father clearly hated her, but she didn’t know how much until the day he did something despicable.
And so, Joan ran away.
Once, Miss Chandler had accidentally given Joan a page of newspaper. That’s where Joan saw help-wanted ads for a servant girl who could make six dollars a week doing the things Joan did on the farm for free. Being paid for her work seemed like a dream, but she didn’t know where to start. She also didn’t know where she would stay on her first night, which is how she ended up on a Baltimore park bench, sobbing.
She had so many dreams. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.
She knew it wasn’t lady-like to speak to strange men but the one who approached her seemed kind. Thinking quickly, Joan changed her name to Janet Lovelace, lied about her age, and poured out a half-fabricated story between her tears. And when the man, Solomon Rosenbach, said he knew of a safe place for her to go, and maybe a job, he changed her life…
I’ll bet it took me 70 pages before I noticed that “The Hired Girl” might be a book for young adults. That’s where you’ll probably find it in bookstores and libraries but you know what…? It won’t matter. You’ll eat this book right up.
How could you not, when this novel is led by a sassy, independent character reminiscent of every classic literary heroine you’ve ever loved? Yes, that’s what author Laura Amy Schlitz brings to these pages in the form of a young girl’s diary and vivid settings that will remind you of Brontë and Dickinson works.
But that lusciousness of word isn’t all you’ll find here. Schlitz also pulls arguments of the day into her story: anti-Irish sentiments, anti-Semitism, class wars, women’s rights and even a bit of history.
So yes, this is a teen’s novel meant for age 12-and-up, but it’s one no adult should resist. If you’re looking for the next classic novel to love, “The Hired Girl” is a dream to read.
At a glance
Title: “The Hired Girl”
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Length: 400 pages