A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
- Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick
- Publication date: September 8, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: March 7, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love historical fiction and strong female characters
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.