When Molly Was a Harvey Girl
Molly Gerry loses her father at age thirteen. She and her 19-year-old sister are left without a roof over their heads. Colleen has a plan to find them jobs at the famous Harvey Eating Houses, restaurants that serve the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad. A Harvey girl must be “of good character, attractive and intelligent.” They must also be eighteen. Desperate, Colleen dresses her sister in women’s clothes and coaches her on how to act like an adult. To Molly’s dismay she is soon waiting a busy counter in the heart of the Wild West, surrounded by cowboys, prospectors, train men and desperados.
The novel is exceptionally well researched, and Wood has a knack for making the train and restaurant scenes come alive. The behind-the-scenes of running a restaurant in the Wild West, serving haute cuisine, were fascinating. The main character, however, was not as fully developed as the menus. She often complains that everyone in town thinks they know her from behind the counter. “Hello Miss Molly” is a constant refrain when she goes out. But as a reader, I felt the same way. I liked her, sympathized with her, would like to get my coffee from her, but did not really know her. I was unconvinced by the initial motivation for the sisters to leave their town to find work – they are well-born, well-educated – I found it difficult to believe that no one in their town helped them find other options than to go out west to be a Harvey Girl. However, this did not detract from an enjoyable and informative read. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing a different side of the Wild West.