Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz; read by Rachel Botchan
Publication Info: 2015 by Recorded Books; hardback 2015 by Candlewick Press
Source: Library digital resources
Ever since the untimely death of her mother, 14-year-old Joan Skraggs has been desperately unhappy. Under the thumb of her cruel father and three sullen brothers, Joan lives like a servant on their farm just outside of Lancaster, forever cooking, cleaning, and attending to the many demands of the home. But she has little freedom and less support from her family for her love of reading and blossoming interest in education. But when her father tells Joan she can't go to school anymore, it sets off a journey that will see her become first a runaway, then a hired girl on $6 a week, and finally her very own young woman.
Set in America during the optimistic years before the First World War, and told through a series of journal entries, The Hired Girl is the story of a young girl in search of real life and true love. It takes in feminism and housework; money, religion, and social class; literature and education, romanticism and realism, first love and sexual yearnings, cats, hats, and bunions. And it's a comedy.
I listened to this right after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and there were certain similarities that would provide fodder for a lengthy term paper on the changes in children's literature in the last 3/4 of a century. I won't write that, so don't panic!
I was struck by the power of the writing about Joan's miserable life before she runs away. The author has made masterful use of the journal approach; Joan is given a distinctive voice and her writing is just the right amount of over-blown prose (reflective of her age and education), combined with very well-chosen words to carry the feelings. It certainly made me want to clobber her awful father!
The maturing of Joan over the year is interesting to watch and well done, if perhaps too accelerated. She continually sees her own immaturity in actions of even a few months earlier, while missing the naivete of what she is thinking and writing at the time. And (like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), she at times comes to believe the lie she's told about her age. Perhaps the most brilliant illustration of this (and the one that is most aggravating) is how she falls in love. She does remind herself occasionally that she is only 14, but most of the time she acts and fantasized as though she were 18, only without the understanding you can bet she'll have in four more years! The careful (or maybe adult) reader can also see the difference between how she sees the young man she's in love with and what he really is--himself a callow youth without the ability to think his actions through.
The narration is very well done, and I have to wonder if I'd have felt Joan's excitement and misery so strongly if I were just reading the words on the page.
I'm not quite sure if I consider this one MG or YA. There are enough adult issues that I'll tag it for 12 and up. There's nothing explicit or inappropriate but there is a lot of adolescent angst. There is a fair amount of discussion of religion, both in terms of addressing antisemitism and of Joan's Catholic faith. I think the value of the former--including recognition of those who don't see their own prejudice--more than offsets any problem a reader might have with the latter.
FTC Disclosure: I checked The Hired Girl out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."