Back when I was a kid, I loved the old Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls, mostly because the premise seemed so bizarre. Young girls left their homes and moved across the country to be morally upright social examples who ran restaurants? What?
Then last year I read a non-fiction history of the real Harvey Houses and the Harvey Girls, and I discovered how true to reality the movie actually had been. (Though I think it’s safe to assume that song-and-dance numbers rarely broke out in the Harvey dining rooms). On the heels of the non-fiction book, I discovered When Molly Was a Harvey Girl, a fictional story of a (much too young) girl, who lies about her age to get a job in the Harvey House in New Mexico.
Molly’s father has died, leaving her and her older sister Colleen penniless. Colleen’s bright idea is for them both to become Harvey Girls–waitresses at the nationwide chain of restaurants attached to the railroad lines. (This is the 1800s, when the railroads were nearly the only way to travel from one end of the country to the other–certainly the only civilized way). Colleen is of age, but Molly is only thirteen; luckily she’s tall, and thus appears older. They sneak through the application process and find themselves in Raton, New Mexico, quite a change from their Illinois hometown.
Molly is spunky and likeable, but not in an unbelievable way. In fact, she’s quite believable: she thinks the Harvey Girl idea is a TERRIBLE one, and she’s not above a little trickery to try to right the situation as she sees it. (If she can just get Colleen married to a successful salesman, they can move back home!) As it turns out, everything in Raton changes Molly’s views of herself, her sister, other people, and her firm ideas on How Life Should Be. This book is a great, realistic coming-of-age story with an unusual setting. Highly recommended!
Posted by: Sarah