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60second Book Review
You like a witty, intelligent narrator who is flawed but lovable.
You don't enjoy historical fiction. But give this book a try anyway--it's magnificent!
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Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Fiction (YA, historical)
Year published: 2015
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Length: 400 delightful pages
Early 20th-century life was hard when Joan’s mother was around, but it’s harder still now that her mother is gone. Joan must care for a household of men alone–sloppy boys like her older brothers, and the terrifying ruler of them all, her father. But Joan has more than strength of body; she has strength of mind and will, and she quickly puts her spirited intellect to use to envision a new life for herself. When things on the farm go south, Joan packs her bags and makes a daring escape–to the big city of Baltimore, where she ends up as a maid to the Rosenbachs, a prominent Jewish family whose interpersonal dynamics, traditions, and expectations are a world away from anything Joan has ever known. Through diary entries over the course of a life-changing year, Joan chronicles her developing relationship with the Rosenbach family, her blossoming intellect, and her misguided (though charming) romantic aspirations. One thing’s for sure about this bright, spunky heroine: In spite of her hardships, she’s destined to succeed.
The Hired Girl is one of those books that I want to give to every reader I know–and then stand over them until they finish reading. It’s that good.
Now, some may say I have a thing for “girl power books.” Which I do. Some may argue I’m predisposed to like any book that features humor, well-crafted characters, and a plot that moves gamely along. Which I do. And all of these components are what make The Hired Girl wonderful. But what really makes this book a stand-out, a gem, and one of the best books I read in 2015, is the nuanced approach it takes to complex thematic elements: feminism, religion, and the pain and pitfalls of growing up. Laura Amy Schlitz explores all these topics with deftness and insight–and just enough of a wry smile that nothing gets too heavy, or heavy-handed.
Finally, there’s Joan: our marvelous main character. Lovable for her strengths–and perhaps even more so for her weaknesses. She’s impetuous and intelligent, naive, thoughtful, and a romantic at heart. Her story, written in the form of a diary, chronicles the ups and downs of her coming-of-age. But it also showcases something more: A young writer, coming into her own. It’s sheer delight following Joan on her journey. If I could put this book in your hands, too, I would.