Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Source: Digital galley courtesy of Candlewick via NetGalley. Thank you!
Publication: September 8, 2015 by Candlewick Press
Verdict: Very Good/Excellent
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.
Inspired by her grandmother’s journal, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sharp wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a comedic tour de force destined to become a modern classic. 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!) takes its reader on an exploration of feminism and housework, religion and literature, love and loyalty, cats, hats, bunions, and burns.
I have been struggling a bit with reviewing this title from Newbery Medalist Schlitz because it is pretty exquisitely written and I feel like I can’t quite do justice to express its depth and scope! The Hired Girl is one of those novels that makes me happy to be immersed in children’s lit and get to experience the richness and high caliber of writers in this field.
At times emotionally devastating- particularly when we first meet Joan and her dismissive father and brothers- at times full of optimism and the promise that life can get and be better, Schlitz’s novel is a quiet and expansive study of character and of a historical era. The Hired Girl is just bursting, so lavish yet precise with historical detail of the early twentieth century: from period attention to costume, culinary and household appliances, literature to the politics of religion, discrimination and feminist movements.
Overall, this is a great read, a well-written (and researched) work that captivated me from beginning to end; the breadth and ground covered in this novel is just tremendous. Readers who love historical fiction and appreciate a novel that is so rich with detail you can almost taste its world will probably adore this latest novel from Laura Amy Schlitz.
I received a copy of this book as a digital galley courtesy of Candlewick via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Review: Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
Publication: May 26, 2015 by Philomel Books
Verdict: Very Good/Excellent
Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when a freak accident on Cedar Lake left one kid dead, and Trent with a brain full of terrible thoughts he can’t get rid of. Trent’s pretty positive the entire disaster was his fault, so for him middle school feels like a fresh start, a chance to prove to everyone that he’s not the horrible screw-up they seem to think he is.
If only Trent could make that fresh start happen.
It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little—the girl with the mysterious scar across her face—that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball gets lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it.
From period-precise historical children’s lit to contemporary middle grade fiction, The Hired Girl and Lost in the Sun are disparate novels but both have terrific writing in common. This is the first of acclaimed writer Lisa Graff’s children’s novels I have read, and I can safely say it will not be the last.
In the vein of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder or Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, Lost in the Sun is a read that is achingly beautiful, sensitive and at times, agonizing. Trent, our narrator and protagonist is, at moments, such a hardened young boy: he is, understandably, full of anger, fear and of questions about fate, decisions and what-ifs. What if he hadn’t asked to join in a game of hockey that day? What if he hadn’t hit the puck? What if the puck had hit his teammate at a different angle? At a different point on his body? Why did such a horrifying accident happen?
Pouring his most tortured and frightened/frightening thoughts as drawings in his journal, Trent presents himself to his new teacher, former friends, former teammates and his divided family as he truly believes others are now viewing him…as dangerous, as a bringer of bad luck, as someone other children shouldn’t be around. It’s around this time that a classmate named Fallon, an unconventional and determined girl who’s been on the receiving end of taunting and spite, tries to make friends with a surly and angry Trent…
Overall, Lost in the Sun is a first-rate middle grade title, poignant and eloquent; perfect for readers of the authors mentioned above and fans of Rebecca Stead, Katherine Applegate, Jennifer L. Holm, or Katherine Paterson.