- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
ISBN 978-0-7636-7818-0 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-9
At fourteen, Joan Skraggs realizes that all she has to look forward to in 1911 America is the life of a spinster, doing house and farm work for no pay or thanks for her widowed father and any unmarried brothers who happen to live at home. Drawing on a modest nest egg left to her in secret by her dying mother, Joan takes off for the big city of Baltimore and, lying about her age, finds employment with the Rosenbachs. The family is grateful to have found a reliable Shabbos goy who can cook and do emergency household management during the Sabbath, and who gets along (mostly) with Malka, the housekeeper/cook who has been with the family for decades. Joan, passing as eighteen-year-old Janet, is happy to be comparatively well paid and nominally appreciated; sometimes, however, she forgets her place as a servant and oversteps into the private lives of the Rosenbachs, causing trouble in the short term but resolving tricky dilemmas in the long run. The somewhat predictable domestic perplexities might have amounted to little more than a lighthearted romp were it not for Schlitz’s careful delineation of even minor characters. Subtext examines the cultural negotiations between the Reform Jewish Rosenbachs; the beloved but exasperatingly Orthodox Malka; Joan, who is determined to take this opportunity to embrace her mother’s Catholic faith; and her religious mentor, Father Horst, whose eyes are opened through Joan to the goodness of his Jewish neighbors. Anne Shirley might recognize in Joan/Janet a kindred spirit—prone to [End Page 110] scrapes, quick to make peace, and eager to expand her horizons. Anne’s fans, who appreciate historical fiction as intelligent as it is entertaining, will be well pleased.