The Hired Girl

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
The Hired Girl Book Poster Image
Absorbing tale of feisty, sweet teen will hook girls.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the values of curiosity, hard work, loyalty, discipline, forgiveness, religious tolerance, education, kindness, and creating your own family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joan is a 14-year-old girl who runs away from home, lies about her age, exaggerates the story of her upbringing, tries to convert a Jewish child to Christianity. Yet she's an incredibly hardworking, tenacious, honest, curious girl who cares a great deal about others, values skills and learning, demonstrates broad-mindedness and tolerance, and loves deeply. Her father is cruel, uncaring, verbally abusive, and sometimes physically abusive. Joan's employers are firm but caring and act as surrogate parents who expose her to reading and foster her education, in spite of their different religious views. Various minor characters are selfish or kind, often both.


A girl is bitten in the face by a cow, bleeds and bruises, requires stitches. A girl dodges a blow from her father. Reference to girls dying in a shirtwaist factory fire in New York City. A man tells a story of religious persecution and babies torn apart. References to a mother's death. Sexual violence when a girl is led to a house and then groped and kissed against her will.


A girl and older boy kiss three times. A girl imagines having dull love affairs as a grown-up. There's some flirting and innuendo, discussions of suitable and unsuitable marriages, crushes, romantic intentions, and love poetry.


"Hell," "Christ killers," "stupid." Some references to the Irish being perceived as dirty, Jewish noses, "Negroes."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Hired Girl is Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz's moving, deftly conceived, engrossing fictional diary of a 14-year-old farm girl from Philadelphia who runs away and takes a job cleaning house for a Jewish family in 1911 Baltimore. Protagonist Joan Skraggs is a complex, rash, and headstrong character who is by turns noble, impetuous, and even sometimes dishonest, but her aspirations, concerns, and obsessions are relatable. There are moments of verbal abuse (and near physical abuse) from her father, a recurring theme of grief over the loss of her mother, some flirtations and sexual situations (groping, kissing), and frank religious discussions of Jewish persecution. But it's primarily an uplifting tale about a girl's desire to educate herself, earn her own way, and move up in the world with common sense and compassion.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysusanaa May 5, 2016
Teen, 13 years old Written byLilAngel114 November 6, 2016

Great Read

This book is a great read for any age kids. I, as a teenager, had no idea what I started reading. But when I got to the 20th page, I was hooked.
Teen, 14 years old Written bycalvinjuno October 6, 2020

Light, fun, and important

As a girl of 14, I'd rate this book as one of the top five best books I've ever read. You know when your teacher talks about reading for "comfort... Continue reading

What's the story?

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs lives a miserable existence on her Philadelphia farm in 1911. Her mother has died, her father is uncaring and verbally abusive, and he's sent away her teacher and burned her books so she can take on all the domestic work. But Joan wants to make her own way in the world, and if her father won't pay her for her work, she'll find someone who will. A newspaper ad for a hired girl proves just the solution -- now all Joan has to do is run away, change her name, lie about her age, and procure work. Luckily, she meets a kind Jewish man in Baltimore who takes her in and offers her the most challenging work of her young life, opening her up to a world of books, affluence, crushes, despair, and a worldly education she never imagined, if she can just keep her true identity under wraps.

Is it any good?

This fictional diary of a feisty, pure-hearted girl who craves self-betterment is a stunner of a novel. Young Joan finds her way through new experiences involving religious clashes, hard work, young love, missteps of class and manners, and mind-broadening reading. But what makes her relatable are all her girlish daydreams and impulses, her well-intentioned meddling, class-related foibles, and efforts at improving her hardscrabble existence to become acceptable in more affluent society. 

Along the way, readers will be challenged to examine their own biases about love and religion and immerse themselves in a world on the cusp of big changes for women, the economy, and households everywhere. An absorbing read that offers a kaleidoscope of history, feminism, and class issues through a young girl's poignant coming of age.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about novels written as fictional diaries. Why do you think they're so popular? Does The Hired Girl seem believable to you? Why, or why not?

  • How do Joan's looks affect her suitability for marriage? What sort of messages does she receive about her looks? 

  • Did Joan need to change her name and lie about her age to escape her farm life? How else might she have achieved the same goals?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical fiction and strong female characters

Themes & Topics

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