The Hired Girl

Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

The Hired Girl is a completely delightful story of Joan Skraggs, younger sister of Matthew, Mark and Luke. She lives a wretched life on a Pennsylvania farm in 1911, where her cruel father works her without mercy. Motherless from age nine, Joan longs to escape her hardscrabble world to someplace better—someplace like the ones she’s read about in books her beloved teacher, Miss Chandler, has given her.  Miss Chandler sees more in Joan than just a farm girl.  She sees a smart kid about to be lost to the vagaries of fate.

In her memory, Joan’s mother tells her to learn, go to school, and become a teacher so she will be able to support herself in a dignified manner. It seems a distant dream until Joan’s father burns the books Miss Chandler has given her. It is then Joan decides she’s had enough, and she leaves home.

But now what? She finds some secret money and buys a train ticket to Baltimore, where she is rescued by a wealthy Jewish family. As she learns the traditions of Judaism that are unusual to her, and gains access to Mr. Rosenbach’s extensive library, Joan—now Janet—begins to get her “real” education.

I fell in love with this irrepressible, 14-year-old girl; she is funny, brave, feisty, curious and, most of all, guided by a strong moral compass. Her voice is authentic and very believable.