The Hired Girl is the first Young Adult book I've read in a long time--I thought the writing was a good combination of accessible and complex. When the story begins, our 14 year old heroine, Joan, is barely enduring a harsh life on the farm with her unforgiving father and thankless brothers. Her mother has passed away, leaving a heavy load on Joan's shoulders and a huge hole in her life. Due to the demands of farm life, and her father, she has to quit school, which had been her last comfort. Sound bleak? Yes, I was wondering when her luck would change for the better, which it certainly does when she flees the only life she's ever known, and strikes out on her own for the big city. There she is fortunate to come across the right person at the right time, a young Jewish boy who sees (as Joan would describe it) a damsel in distress, and offers to help. His family not only takes her in for the night, but offers her a job as a hired girl. There's still an awful lot of drudgery--cleaning, cooking (plus the intricacies of preparing kosher food), and dealing with Malka, the older, temperamental housekeeper. But there are also new possibilities for her and even occasional fun to be had. Mr. Rosenbach, the patriarch of the house, allows Joan to use his library, and with her little time off, she is free to go to church or even shopping. And there's the heartthrob younger brother in the family as well . . .
The book is in journal format, so there's plenty of daydreaming on the part of our romantically inclined main character. She's a deep thinker though too, and it's fun to follow her as she takes in new points of view, and forms various rivalries and alliances. Joan writes often and recreates conversations with every member of the household, from philosophical and religious explorations with Mr. Rosenbach, to girlish gossiping with 12 year old Mimi. Though she is certainly not a member of the family, and often confined to the kitchen, Joan experiences a suprisingly vast new world, emotionally and intellectually. She goes through many a blunder (as anyone her age will!) but her hard work and courage pay off. The author does a good job of showing how more opportunities were becoming available for many different people in early twentieth century America. It's inspiring and satisfying to watch this hired girl's life transform.