The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired GirlThe Hired GirlThe Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz by Laura Amy Schlitz

If you, like me, can be disappointed when an otherwise good book doesn’t fulfill what you’d been led to believe it would be based on its description, let me just warn you: I do not think the book is a “comedic tour de force.” I do not think it’s anywhere close to being one.

Other than that, I would agree with the description: the author has delicious wit and a keen eye, and the book is moving. It does explore feminism (slightly) along with religion, literature, love, and loyalty. And yes, there is plenty of housework. She is a hired girl, after all.

Don’t let my “it’s not what it claims to be!” keep you from trying the book, if you’re a fan of historical fiction. Joan is an appealing character, and her story is engrossing. I enjoyed the diary format, as it helped make some of the more emotionally charged moments easier to read. Apparently I’m a literary wimp, and liked the extra distance provided by her relaying events later, rather than me reading about them as they were happening. (I realize this sounds crazy, but there you have it.)

The writing is smooth, and the only reason I didn’t finish it in one session is because of still needing to take care of things like children and dinners and other household tasks. Appropriate enough for this book.

The characterizations are wonderful, and I find myself wondering what happened to them all after the story ends. I liked so many of them, and kind of miss them now. I also enjoyed the peek into life in a Jewish household.

Recommended if you enjoy historical fiction. It is classified as a young adult or middle grade book, but I found it quite enjoyable as an adult. I’d hesitate to hand it over to a younger, precocious reader – there is the emotional abuse Joan takes early in the book, and later in the book are descriptions of kissing and some more (see below) if those are issues for your readers.

Spoiler alerts if you’re still debating on its appropriateness for your reader. Highlight the area below to see, but it does give away the ending:

Joan spends a large portion of the book lying about her identity (quite understandably), although it does all end up resolving in the end, when her real name and age are discovered. Towards the end of the book she also offers to become the mistress of the man she believes she’s in love with, although it’s phrased in such a way it could be missed by somewhat oblivious readers. The uproar when she’s discovered and emphasis on “nothing happened” would probably let them know they’ve missed something if they didn’t already catch it. Her employers “catch” her and find out who she really is and how young she is, and the book eventually ends with her headed back to school.

So yes, I liked the book, but I would be aware of the age and maturity of potential readers before sharing it.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her delicious wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a moving yet comedic tour de force.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Book Details

Title: The Hired GirlThe Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Category: Juvenile Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from NetGalley for review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Two years ago: The Story Circle: New Session

Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr KnightlyDear Mr. Knightley: A NovelDear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay by Katherine Reay

Some mixed feelings towards this one. It’s a modern retelling of Jean Webster’s book Daddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (reviewed last week), but that’s only mentioned in the questions for the author at the back of the book. It’d be very easy to miss otherwise if you didn’t already know the DLL connection.

In general, Reay does a nice job of modernizing the story. DLL was cute fluff, but Dear Mr. Knightly adds some grit to the tale, and gives it extra depth – it could work as a book club read, while I don’t think DLL really would. However, that modernization also ends up making the premise behind the story not work so well.

The writing is engaging, and despite knowing how it would end, I was still invested in the book and Sam that I stayed up way too late reading it. And while I side-eyed a few fairly minor plot points, overall I mostly enjoyed it.

I was surprised to find a bit more overt Christian content in it than I originally expected. It’s still a minor part of the story, so if you object to it, I don’t think there’s so much to put you off the book entirely. A couple of times it was a bit clunky in how it was integrated into the text, but it was still fairly minor in annoyance. (Typically I find it incredibly annoying when that sort of content is forced into a storyline, and that’s even when I agree with what they’re saying. This had two or three mildly eye-rolling moments). Halfway through the book it takes a turn and it became surprisingly moralistic in an unbelievable way.

Sam’s reaction at the end of the book was predictable if you know the original book, but still annoyed me. Spoiler alert! Highlight the area below if you don’t mind getting spoiled as to some events.

She’s spent most of the book telling half-truths if not outright lies, hiding information and herself, and then she gets angry when she discovers the identity of “Mr. Knightly”? It felt so hypocritical.

I enjoyed Reay’s writing, and actually enjoyed it the most when she veered away from the original plot lines. I’d happy read her second book, Lizzy and JaneLizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay, except for the cancer story-line. Instead I’m holding out for her third book, The Brontë PlotThe Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay, which releases this November. (It’s also only $4.99 on Kindle right now to pre-order: a great price for a pre-release!)

Publisher’s Description:
Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

Book Details

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley: A NovelDear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay
Author: Katherine Reay
Category: Fiction
My Rating: 3 Stars
Buy the book: Print | Kindle | Audible

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster by Jean Webster

Sweet and charming, if completely predictable. Don’t let that keep you from trying this book – despite the complete lack of any sort of surprise involved in the narrative, it was such a fun, comforting read. Yes, I know, I’m a committed fan of epistolary novels, but I don’t think you have to be as partial to them as I am to still appreciate this.

There’s a sequel companion novel, that follows this one chronologically (thank you Caroline for the correction on the term), Dear EnemyDear Enemy by Jean Webster, which I’m excited to read. And Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay seems to be an updated version of the story. I can’t wait to get to this one too.

It’s also one that would work for precocious readers, if you’ve got younger girls whose reading ability surpasses their maturity for some of the content in contemporary YA titles.

Thanks Jessica for picking this as part of your Young Adult Book and Movie Club – I wouldn’t have read it without that prompting, and I so enjoyed it.

A heads-up: the Kindle version is only $.99, which is admittedly a great deal. But it doesn’t include the drawings that are scattered throughout the text, which is a real shame. Something to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing it.

Publisher’s Description:
Bright and lively Judy Abbott is an orphan who dreams of escaping the drudgery of her life at the John Grier Home. One day she receives a marvelous opportunity—a wealthy male benefactor has agreed to fund her higher education. In return, Judy must keep him informed about the ups and downs of college life. From horrendous Latin lessons to falling in love, the result is a series of letters both hilarious and poignant. Fans of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will relish this American-girl-power coming-of-age story.

Book Details

Title: Daddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Author: Jean Webster
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars
Buy the book: Print | Kindle | Audible

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

The Truth According to Us

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us: A NovelThe Truth According to Us: A Novel by Annie Barrows by Annie Barrows

I was somewhat nervous starting Barrows’ new book. I loved her book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so much, it was all I could do not to get my hopes up so high that nothing could meet them.

No worries – this ended up being a fantastic and satisfying read. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked on the story, and I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes, and what had happened in the past. The characters are compelling – it’s impossible to pick a favorite – there were so many fantastic ones: Jottie, Willa, Layla, the twins…

The setting is crucial to the story, and you’ll feel the crushing heat of summer throughout the book. I was so engrossed in the time period and location that I kept expecting to find myself sweltering in West Virginia longing for a break from the summer temperatures.

There are a few letters included, but the majority of the book is not written in an epistolary format (so don’t despair if you don’t like that structure; it’s minimal). It was enough to be just another bonus for me, since that’s one of my favorite styles.

I don’t re-read much, but this is one that I think I will. There’s so much going on, and so many layers, that I’m looking forward to a second reading to more fully appreciate how she structured it and wove all the elements together.

While I read an electronic copy, this is one where I wonder if the physical book would be easier to read – the narrative switches between first person and third person, and includes those occasional letters. Initially I had to adjust to the alternating points-of-view, and there was no real formatting variation to help with that in the electronic version. Not a reason to avoid the book, just a heads-up that it may take some getting used to.

Highly recommended. I think it would make a great book club choices as well – there would be lots to discuss. It’s a long book, but it’s easy to read and felt much shorter than it really was.

[Read more…]

Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale by Shannon Hale

Retellings of fairy tales may be quite common, but a retelling of the Maid Maleen fairy tale? Not so common. It’s probably just as well that that fairy tale itself isn’t commonly known, since Hale sticks close to the original in many plot points. Since I definitely was NOT familiar with that tale it allowed me to still be somewhat surprised by certain plot twists.

An age range for this is a bit tough to peg – there are very brutal events, although most take place off stage, and the ones that take place in the book itself aren’t detailed. There are threats of rape, but readers who are unaware of that horror won’t catch the reference, as it’s only hinted at and not stated explicitly. The main character faces starvation, torture, and even death – this is not a book I’d blithely hand over to someone without knowing them and their sensitivities.

And yet, that makes it sound harsher than it really reads, and likely would keep anyone from voluntarily picking it up, which would be a shame. Yes, there are difficult events in it, but the book retains a wonderful sense of hope throughout it. Hale does an amazing job of somehow not making the book feel too dark or heavy despite some of the topics. The setting is a great adaptation to the original tale – I loved the Mongolian customs that are described, and how one of them plays a pivotal role in the overall story (not saying more as I’m skirting a spoiler there). I adored the main character and was sad to come to the end of the book.

There are scattered illustrations throughout the text, and they add to the story’s charm yet also make it feel targeted more towards younger teens or tweens. I know, I just referred to the book’s charm after that earlier paragraph; seems unlikely and yet it does have a great deal of charm.

Finally, the book is told in journal entries, so that was another plus for it as far as I’m concerned. Am I extra swayed in a book’s favor when it’s an epistolary novel? Quite likely. 🙂 [Read more…]