Thursday, April 14, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz

Schlitz, Laura Amy. The Hired Girl. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN 9780763678180

Plot Summary:
It is the year 1911, and protagonist Joan Skraggs wants more than the life she has on the rural farm with her father. She wants a proper education and to find true love. Her father, however, does not believe that his daughter needs an education, and instead burns her book. That is the last straw for Joan, and she decides to run away to Baltimore where she is sure she can find something more to life. Finding a place to stay is harder than she expects, and that is how she comes to be hired by the Rosenbachs. A Jewish family who needs assistance for their aging housekeeper. Joan must learn to grow into a young lady while learning to accept those who are different from herself. 

Critical Analysis: 

Overall, the characters and plot of this novel were interesting and entertaining, though not always completely engaging. The events of the story are interesting, especially for a young woman in 1911. We understand that Joan is struggling with the loss of her mother and her father's reluctance to allow her a proper education. The fact that Joan wants to fight for these things make her a relate able and likeable character, despite her naive nature. While naive, it is clear that Joan does embody a typical fourteen-year-old. She does not understand the outside world, people of different cultures, or how difficult life could be outside of her rural farm with her father.

The setting was well-detailed and detailed, so that it felt as if the reader knew how Baltimore was in the 1900s. It was very interesting to see these things through the eyes of a young girl as well; one who had only known life and work on a farm up to that point. While the characters, plot, and setting were all very transparent, the theme did seem a bit muddled. Every time it seemed as if Joan had learned an important lesson, she said something naive or inappropriate again. While her personality made it likeable, it was a bit difficult at times to over look these flaws completely. I do believe that the overall themes were to accept others despite differences and to fight for what you want, but some digging had to be done at times to support these ideas.

The style of the novel stayed consistent throughout the entirety, which was certainly a redeeming quality for the novel. The diary style added a bit of interest as we were able to see the inner most feelings and thoughts of the main character as she tried to adjust to the new life she had made for herself. The language and terminology seemed appropriate for the time period as well as the age of the character, though I do believe some of it could prove challenging and confusing for young readers. The dialect is accurate, but a bit difficult at times.

As far as authenticity goes, I had a difficult time determining if this book was based off of much research as there was not much noted in the book itself. Schlitz did explain why she used certain terminology, and explained that the idea came from seeing her own grandmother's journal. While it does seem to fit with the time period, it is a bit difficult to fact check this information without more sources discussed by the author.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Schlitz (Splendors & Glooms) has crafted another exquisite literary gem, one told entirely via Joan’s vivid, humorous, and emotionally resonant diary entries over a year and a half." 

From School Library Journal: "Writing a book that could only be written by her, published by the only publisher who would take a chance at it (Candlewick), Schlitz’s latest is pure pleasure on the page."


Other books that are similar and could be suggested to students who enjoyed this book could be Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. 

Naturally, as historical fiction, this book could be used to get a better glimpse at how life was back in 1911. Of course, there is a bit of controversy around the main character and her views, so those things could be discussed as well.

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