This story is told in the first person by a 14-year old girl through her journal, written in 1911. It starts out slowly as she is working on a farm. Her mother has passed away and she is doing all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, cleaning the privy, etc. for her father and her brothers. Her mother had hoped Joan would attend school and eventually become a teacher. After her mom passed, her dad took her out of school, forbade her to see her old teacher, and in a fit of rage, burned her three books. Joan decides to leave the farm and travel to Baltimore.
Her first night, trying to sleep on a park bench, she is befriended by a young man who convinces her to come to his home and meet his mother, at least for a place to stay for the night. They turn out to be a wealthy Jewish family and they need a house maid to help their old old-country house keeper. Joan’s mother tried to raise her as a good Catholic. She has never me a Jew before. Some interesting conversations and situations ensure.
It is a good way to learn about various Jewish customs around Shabbos, kashrut, kosher vs. treif foods, etc. in the context of the story. There is discussion of Antisemitism, why the Catholics are wary of the Jews and vice versa. It also is about parental expectations for work and marriage at the turn of the century, as well as views of the Upstairs Downstairs interactions, even in America.
It was an enjoyable book to an adult from a combined Jewish and Christian background. I see trouble coming ahead of time in some cases. It would be interesting to talk with a younger reader about their views of the book.
It won an ALA Notable Book Award, the National Jewish Book Award, and the author is a former Newbery Medal Winner.