It remained true. With my previous post and insistence that King’s quote would hold true, Schlitz’s The Hired Girl was a book that didn’t give up all its secrets at one. The reader’s relationship with Janet nee Joan is like meeting a new best friend– one that was instant but is appreciated more with each passing day. Even Malka, the servant who is part of the Rosenbach’s family since she raised the elder Rosenbach since he was a child, is endeared to Janet and her hard-working attitude and need to please.
Janet must escape the dead-end work that will eventually kill her and her spirit at Steeple Farm. Her father has lost his wife and Janet has lost her mother. She is now the woman of the house, keeping it, cleaning it while cooking for the men, her father and brothers, without any respect, praise, or money for a new dress. And now the last straw, as her father will not allow her to attend school and left her idol, Miss Chandler, unwelcome in their home. Janet thought she’d be able to show her father her worth, but instead, he burns the few books that she had. Janet is now resolute. She will leave and never return. And leave she does.
Now she is a hired girl in the Rosenbach’s house, a Jewish home, when Janet is a Gentile. It’s an education for Janet as to how to keep a house for a Jewish family in the early 1900s but it’s also a chance for Janet to blossom. It’s her trials and tribulations and the reader’s want and need to see Janet succeed that push the book forward. There’s a beauty in Janet’s simplicity and a complexity to the characters that she interacts with.
In the vein of Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light, this historical novel demonstrates the power of education and perseverance. And while it will likely be best appreciated by adults, teens regardless of the distance of time, will fight for Janet as she fights for herself.