This unique and affecting story is set in 1911 and told in the form of diary entries written by 14-year-old Joan Skaggs. Soon after the story begins, Joan runs away from her psychologically abusive father (Joan’s mother died when Joan was ten) and flees to Baltimore where she finds work as a house girl with the Rosenbach family.
Joan pretends to be 18 and changes her name to Janet Lovelace so the Rosenbachs would not be able to send her back to her family even if they found out her true age.
She works hard and has a positive influence on the family, as they have on her. But after all, she is still young girl, and often acts like one. She is especially confused not only by her newly developing hormones, but by needing to figure out right from wrong – in particular the conflict between her Catholic faith (and the advice of the local priest), and the Jewish faith of the Rosenbachs. Eventually, it all leads to potential disaster: the discovery of Janet’s actual age; her feelings for one of the flirtatious Rosenbach sons; the pressure Janet perceives from the priest to “proselytize” the Rosenbachs; the Rosenbachs’ feelings of betrayal; and Janet’s uncertainty over her future.
The characters are all nicely drawn, and it is hard to pick which one is most endearing: Malka, the crusty grandmotherly-type housekeeper who comes to love Janet; Mimi Rosenbach, the bubbly 12-year-old daughter who is full of dreams to achieve more than is usually open to girls; Mr. Rosenbach, who acknowledges Janet’s potential and helps her; Mrs. Rosenbach, who is at turns generous, harsh, and wise; or of course the heroine – brave, resourceful, and good-hearted Janet, who longs for a better future for herself that is full of love and learning.
Evaluation: This book is very well-done. It is at times heart-breaking, but the story also offers warmth, hope, character growth, and a subtle underlying humor. The author has won several awards for books for young readers in the past, and I imagine this book will draw much positive attention as well. Highly recommended!
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015