by Laura Amy Schlitz
First sentence: “Today Miss Chandler gave me this beautiful book.”
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Content: There’s some harsh illusions to domestic violence in the beginning and some illusions to sex near the end, but nothing actual. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Joan is a 14-year-old Pennsylvania farm girl in the early 1900s who longs to be Educated and See the World. However, ever since her mother died, she has been increasingly chained to the farm by her boorish and harsh father. He forces her to withdraw from the local school, but the last straw was when he burned her books. So, she packs up in the middle of the night, and heads to Baltimore to Make Her Fortune.
Her fortune turns out to be Solomon Rosenbach, who finds her distraught in the park with nowhere to go. He brings her home and his mother hires Joan — who is pretending to be 18 and is going by Janet — to be the hired girl. From there, Joan becomes a part of the Rosenbach family’s lives, sometimes with positive results and other times not so much.
It sounds pretty mundane, but in Schlitz’s hands, this time period comes alive. Not only does she capture the cusp of the women’s movement: the idea that women can be educated and can be live without husbands and fathers, she captures a girl who is out discovering not only the world, but herself. Additionally, Joan’s voice is so captivating that it makes the book a delight to read.
But what I liked best — being religious myself — is the way Schlitz addressed religion. The Rosenbach’s are Jewish, and while not Orthodox, they do practice their religion. And Joan is a Catholic. Or at least, she’d like to be because her mother was. Schlitz explores prejudice and Antisemitism, explores how to practice your own religion while respecting that of other people around you. All of which is not only relevant, but interesting.
I do have to admit that I kind of lost interest near the end, when there is some Drama involving another Rosenbach son. But, Schlitz even handled that well, and the last chapter gave the book a good ending.
Overall, a good book.