If you enjoy historical fiction and realistic young adult novels, you will likely enjoy The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. Set, for the most part, in Baltimore in 1911, The Hired Girl tells the story of Joan, a young Catholic girl who yearns to escape the farm life in Pennsylvania under her father’s strict rule.
Joan is allowed to attend school, where she thrives, until her mother dies and she is needed at home to step into the role of homemaker for her father and brothers who work long hours on the land. Joan secretly reads novels in every spare moment and imagines a better life for herself. She’s a devoted Catholic, or at least she would like to be, but her father is not exactly enthusiastic about her dedication to the Church.
When Joan sees in a newspaper that girls can get hired for housework in city homes for a weekly salary, Joan asks her father for a salary much more modest than what she could earn elsewhere, but he refuses. Life with her becomes impossible and 14-year-old Joan runs away to Baltimore where, after lying about her age, she finds a job as a hired a girl in the home of a Jewish family who owns a big department store.
In the Rosenbachs’ home, Joan must learn about city life, Jewish life, budgeting her salary, faith, and real romance as opposed to what she’s learned in books. She already knows how to work very hard in the physical sense, but now she must also learn to navigate the new relationships in her life including ones with Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbach, their children, and the long-time cook and housekeeper who is not thrilled to have a young assistant in the house.
The diary format of the novel and the detailed period details from this slice of history together form a story that truly feels like dipping back in time. I cannot recommend The Hired Girl enough.
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