Harvey Girl

Written by Sheila Wood Foard
Review by Cindy Vallar


Clara Massie’s 14th birthday isn’t the celebration she imagined. Farming in the Ozarks of 1919 is hard work, and her dad sees her book learning as “gettin’ above your raisin’.” Rather than face another whipping, Clara flees to St. Louis, Missouri, where cousin Opal is a waitress in a Frank Harvey restaurant that serves good meals to railroad passengers. At first reticent to help Clara become a waitress because she’s too young, Opal gives Clara hints on how to get the job. She trains as a Harvey girl in Belin, New Mexico, but a slip of the tongue eventually leads to trouble. While serving meals to the suffragettes in Las Vegas, the hotel’s china bowl is stolen. In the ensuing investigation, Clara is fired and reluctantly returns home. She has no intention of remaining on the farm; she must find a way to get her sister, who suffers from tuberculosis, to New Mexico where she has a chance to survive.

The 21st century ceases to exist once the reader opens the pages of this young adult novel. The author deftly recreates life on a poor farm, the trepidation of your first interview, and the excitement of starting your first job. Clara matures and grows, although at times her old self intrudes, just as in real life. Foard served as a docent at the Belin Harvey House museum and interviewed Harvey girls, research which adds immeasurably to the story. She takes a few liberties with her historical timeline, but the reader doesn’t notice because she seamlessly interweaves history with fiction. Photographs depicting Harvey Houses and their staff, and information about the real Harvey girls, are icing on the cake.