WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Type: Historical Fiction
Basic Plot: Joan Skraggs has no more of a future than one of the chickens on her farm. Tired of being either ignored or hated by her family, she runs away to Baltimore to become a hired girl for a Jewish family.
Plot: 3½/5 Above Average: The story is a story of hope and hard work, but can also be seen having some of the more dependent pictures of humanity. Joan Skraggs runs away from an abusive home to work for herself, but she constantly gets herself in bad situations. They are interesting, but this is the main drive of the book, making the book occasionally repetitive in its content, though usually interesting to read. Joan’s Catholic religion, her employer’s Jewish rituals and lifestyle, and the life in the early 1900’s add the details to the plot that make the partially repetitive plot fascinating to read.
As for characters, the protagonist is as spirited, dreamy, and impetuous as Anne from Anne of Green Gables with a life that is just as, if not a little more, exciting and passionate. The other characters are also flavorful and animated, even the ones with supposedly “dull” personalities. Most of the main characters are memorable, especially the members of the Jewish family. There are a few genuinely dull, cliché characters, but they are brief, existing for no more than three or four entries.
Writing Style and Setup: 3½/5 Above Average: The style is pretty to read, partly because it is in the first person. Joan is honest and natural, writing what she sees and from the way she sees it, which his sometimes more than a little childish. Almost everything the author wrote, the reader could tell was written on purpose and with purpose. Very little had any of the “filler” feeling that sometimes books have.
Moral: 2/5 Good and Bad Morals: Joan tends to be an impetuous girl, which gets her in trouble. She spends a lot of time crying because she makes foolish decisions about how much she involves herself in others affairs as well as how she reacts to things. Unfortunately, one can feel traces of “Curious, Curious George” as they read this book, though it is not taken to an extreme level. Though Joan gets in trouble, things usually work out on their own or from some outside help. The only major consequence she has is that she tends to cry a lot from looking like a fool and often sinks in certain people’s opinions. This is mercy at its finest, though real life is often much crueler.
The better, though less shown moral, is the moral of humbleness. Joan often has to apologize for her mistakes and admit her faults. She often thinks how much prouder people in books are as opposed to people in real life and by the end of the book concludes that it is better to be humble.
Overall: 3½/5 Above Average: The book has a quality of fineness and pleasantness. Some may see the plot as a bit repetitive and the overall moral not that substantial, which would be true.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 3½/5 Suggestive Content: A man hugs and kisses Joan and touches “the front of [her] dress,” all against her will. It is vaguely suggested that she may have kicked him somewhere “higher up” than when she kicked him in the shin, and it is said that she used to kick her brother there. After this, Joan worries that all of the men in the city are like that. Unmarried characters kiss at least five times. Joan hugs, is held by, and holds hands with a boy she is not married to. Joan thinks that doing certain “things” that “married couples” do “wouldn’t be so bad” as long as she is doing it with the boy mentioned above. They never do anything like that together. She offers herself to him; he refuses. When the family finds them talking, they believe they have caught them in “a vulgar intrigue” and stare at the man’s bed, though nothing like that was going on. Joan then thinks how she had been warned to guard her purity and reputation. Characters get embarrassed at least twice when other characters see them in their pajamas. Joan brings up sheets when talking to a man and then wonders to herself if the subject was inappropriate and blushes. He offers no signs that it was. There are vague, brief references to Joan getting her cycle. Joan walks in on her father changing, though nothing inappropriate is shown. She is relieved at a different part of the book when she walks in on a man and he isn’t changing. Characters watch an opera that has a man and woman that are living together outside of marriage, and the woman is a prostitute, though she is never directly called so by name. Joan reads a book that mentions such a woman like that. Joan looks at scantily clad pieces of art with a male friend and feels embarrassed, though the statues are not described. At the end of the book, it shows complete pictures of certain works of art, one containing naked, male cherubs in the background that showed everything except for the front of the statue. Some ladies believe that a certain boy will “lose whatever morals he had” when he goes to Paris.
Violence: 2/5 Some Light Violence: Joan slaps a cow. It crushes her foot and knees her in the face. It is mentioned that in a certain book a man slaps his daughter. Joan’s brothers are mentioned to have been whipped as children at home and school, though Joan never was. Her father says that he wishes he would’ve, although he promised her mother he wouldn’t. A girl says that her father never slapped or spanked her. Joan kicks a man twice. Cats bites and/or scratches Joan in at least three entries. A man violently charges at Joan, though he misses. Joan tells him that he had better not hit her; he doesn’t. Joan thinks about her mother painfully pulling dirt out from under Joan’s fingernails. A family believes that Joan was being physically abused at her old home, though she wasn’t. An old woman slaps Joan and cuffs a boy. Joan thinks several times that a person will slap or shake her or someone else, though it never happens. Joan swings a poker at a boy and misses. A boy attacks a suitcase and tears it up while pretending to kill animals. He later pretends to kill other animals, though without attacking the suitcase. Joan’s foot hurts after kicking someone. An old woman’s finger nails hurt Joan once when they grasp her.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 2/5 Light Swearing: God’s name is taken in vain in German once, and possibly once or twice in English. “Hell” is misused twice, and “jackass” is once used in anger. One man apologizes for misusing “hell.” Joan says that it is fine, as she probably would have done the same. A few times there are mentions of characters swearing and taking God’s name in vain, but rarely does it say what they said, suggesting once or twice that a man misused “hell.” Joan mentions that a nickname for Damaris would be swearing.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2/5 There are several descriptions that use things like, death, diseases, injuries, violence, cannibalism, and other “disturbing” descriptions throughout the book. Death and violent threats are used for exaggerations throughout the book, and a boy once makes a joke about “dead artist.” In a bad mood, a woman once says that it would be better for others if she were dead. A Shakespeare quote mentions that people do not die and eaten by worms from lost love. Joan cries a lot throughout the book, usually from embarrassment, though sometimes from emotional circumstances. She mentions a girl in another book that cries a lot. A man tells Joan about Catholic persecution of Jewish people, ranging from spitting to rock throwing to massacres of people of all ages, though there is little gory detail. It is mentioned that a woman’s grandfather “was beaten to death with a shovel.” Joan mentions being scared as a child after hearing how a boy lost his finger. It is mentioned that the Romans killed Jesus, and a man mentions he thought the Jewish people had. It mentions that some Jewish people wanted to kill Paul, though other probably hadn’t. An old woman scrams a few times in the book. There is mention of Joan of Arc fighting in a war. Joan bleeds and worries about losing an eye and blindness when she gets kneed in the face by a cow. Joan briefly thinks about suicide, but decides she could never do it because she likes to be alive. It is mentioned that girls had to jump from a burning building. A woman believes that her cat has died, though it hasn’t. In an opera, a woman dies of in her love’s arms of consumption. There is mention of men who died from mining accidents. There is much talk of characters that have already died, though mostly Joan’s mother, and Joan describes her mother’s death. Joan believes she died from overwork, as her Mother just collapsed in the fields, and Joan thinks about how she will probably die the same way. Her mother’s funeral is briefly mentioned. A woman tells Joan that her baby almost died from croup and describes how she stayed awake all night caring for her. It also mentions that a little boy was sick and threw up. It is mentioned that a bird was thought dead in a story, but he wasn’t, he was merely injured. Joan tells a boy in a game they are playing that they will die if he doesn’t get them food. A boy mentions that he broke his nose when he was a child. Joan tells a boy a story about a snake that eats children and is killed by a boy, though no details are given. A man is mentioned to have shot cats. A girl says that a baby cat left in a tree will “starve to death,” and Joan does not want to let a cat by out as she worries about it being killed by cars or children. A woman likes to talk about people dying from diseases, though it never goes into detail on what she says except that the deaths were long. Some ladies say that a cat will suffocate a baby, though the cat never does. A boy asks why on the crucifix Jesus is bleeding. Joan wishes she would faint. One of the ways Joan wishes she could thank a man include “saving him from a burning building,” though he is never in such a position. Joan kills a chicken, though it is not described. Joan once wants to hit a boy. Characters ask Joan a few times if she is or was hurt, and she usually is. Blood is mentioned to be on people and clothing, once Joan being temporarily blinded by the amount of blood over her eye. Joan’s hair and bed catch on fire. Joan’s hairpins hurt in the rain. Joan gets cramps and stomach pain from running, her corset, and her cycle. Joan writes to be careful making jam to avoid getting burned. She also gets blisters, burns, bruises, a scab, scratches, stitches, and a swelled face and eye. Her feet sometimes hurt from work or use them. Other characters are mentioned to have gotten stitches, headaches, bunion pain, and burned. A man is mentioned to have once “almost lost an eye” in a canning accident.
Religious Issues: 3/5 Suggestive Content: Joan is Catholic and is shown to deeply believe Catholicism, calling it the “True Faith” throughout her diary. She goes to the Catholic church as a teenager and child, goes Catholic instructions, prays the rosary and Hail Marys, and often has discussions in her prayers with Mary that include Mary answering her back in how most Christians would look at God answering, though she does admit that she isn’t really sure if Mary answers her. She also once goes to the “Lady Chapel.” Joan thinks about the Eucharist a few times, though it is not ever called that, and wishes she could take it. By the end of the book, she has. She is a very devoted worshipper of Mary, offering her flowers on one of Mary’s supposed Holy Days and planning to write a poem in her honor. She also shows interest in the Litany of the Virgin and in Mary’s Catholic titles and names, though the actual litany, titles, and names are never shown. A priest gives a girl a missal. Characters are called “Father” and “daughter” for religious purposes. Incense, the Pearl of Great Price, statues and Catholic references to saints and Mary, Mass, crucifixes, genuflecting, Purgatory, priests, books with the IMPRIMATUR seal of the Catholic Church, mentions of Catholic prayers, the rosary, certain Holy Days of Obligation, and missals are all mentioned. Joan asks a priest about a line in a supposedly infallible Catholic prayer that says Jesus is “offend[ed]” when we “find pleasure to our liking.” The priest doesn’t believe it literally word-for-word, though he says it is still an infallible prayer. A priest and Joan both believe that they can “feel the mind and heart of God.” A priest asks Joan if she wants to become a nun; she refuses. Joan thinks that only saints can “go straight to heaven” on death. Joan goes through an experience where she can no longer feel God. She says that this “absence” and “darkness was God.” Joan mentions that she was confirmed.
A man tells Joan a story to get her to believe that it doesn’t matter what religion you believe because no one can know which one is real and that it doesn’t really matter. Joan accepts this at least to a degree. She is also reprimanded for telling a little boy about Jesus and later believes that what she did was wrong. A man “decides that religion is hogwash” after some bad experiences financially. Jewish customs are mentioned and sometimes described, such as kosher, certain holidays, and the Sabbath traditions. There is mention of the Talmud. A sentence from a Jewish prayer is said. It is mentioned that Jewish people believe that if they are good enough God will write their name in the book of life on Rosh Hashanah. Joan believes that God loves a certain family because they are “virtuous.” A boy jokes with Joan by telling her a story about ghosts, one a Moorish girl wishing she could be baptized. The boy mentions the Eve of St. John and that he was at a cathedral. Joan jokes back by asking him about other ghosts. Muslims are briefly mentioned a few times, but as “Mahometans,” a common term for them in the early 1900’s. Mohammed (as Mohomet) riding on a peacock is briefly referred to once. There is mention of people being or having been Presbyterian and Methodist. There is mention of cathedrals, a rectory, and a parishoner. There is mention of the Orthodox religion, and how they view where the Holy Ghost comes from as oppose to where the Catholics believes it comes from. The Quaker religion is mentioned. There is mention of false gods and goddesses- often by name-, Medusa, and cupids, some of these being used in art. It is mentioned that Jezebel, in the Bible, “encouraged her husband to worship false gods.” Joan worries that certain things are blasphemy, such as certain Jewish rituals or mentally criticizing an idol of Mary, though they are not. A boy once says “When I’m painting, my religion is painting!” because he is angry. One section is called “A Warrior Goddess of Wisdom” and shows a picture of a false goddess. “Demon,” “ghost,” “haunted,” and “sphinx-like” are used for descriptive purposes, as well as false roman gods. Joan thinks about men and women worshipping each other in relationships and decides that it is better for men to worship woman rather than the other way around. She also uses “worships the ground he walks on” to describe how an old man treats a certain man. A park is named “Druid Hill Park.”
Magic: 1/5 Brief Mention: The fairy tale “Thumbelina” is told, though there are no references to fairies in it. The Wizard of Oz is mentioned. Fairies and nymphs are used for art and decoration. Joan thinks something is a good omen once. “Cinderella,” “changeling,” “bewitch,” “fairyland,” “faery,” “fury,” “goblin-ish,” “magic,” “gazing through a magic casement” “nymph,” “spell,” “sylph,” and “witch” are used in various forms for descriptive purposes. No magic is done in the book.
Others: Joan wants to see a ballet. A man asks his son if he is a socialist, though it never says if he is or not. Two men drink whiskey. People drink wine, and in a Jewish tradition, a whole family- including the children- everyone drinks a little wine. A man is served beer, and it is mentioned that he likes beer. Characters mention that they will be or want to go to or be taken to balls and dances. Whiskey glasses are used for an art lesson. “Champagne,” “ballet dancer,” “dance,” “drunk,” “drunkards,” “gambled,” and “wine” are all used for descriptive purposes.
Overall: 3½/5 Teenage Appropriate: The most problematic things in this book, in my opinion are the religious issues. Most of the sexual content is not very descriptive, especially when compared to most modern teen books. Swearing is also low. Violence and disturbing content is also low in description. Overall, though there was a long list of a bunch of little things, morally the book is acceptable except possibly in some of the religious content, as Joan being a very serious worshipper of Mary. I believe if a person did read it, they should clearly understand why all religions are not the same and why it is ok to politely spread the gospel, even if others don’t always want to hear it. These things should be clearly explained and understood before reading. If that is understood and accepted, I believe fifteen to sixteen would be the best age to read it.