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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 4: The Hired Girl vs I Crawl Through It


JUDGE – Erin Kelly Entrada

The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
I Crawl Through It
by A.S. King
Little, Brown

First I’d like to thank the SLJ editors for giving me such an easy pairing. NOT.

I won’t go into the whole OMG-these-books-couldn’t-be-more-different-and-it’s-like-apples-and-oranges spiel—although I totally want to—because we all know that these books couldn’t be more different and it’s like apples and oranges. But at least they’re both in the same YA fruit basket.

Speaking of fruit baskets, anyone who has read I Crawl Through It will tell you it’s weird. That seems to be the common denominator among those who love the book and those who hate it. The book opens with Gustav, a guy who’s building an invisible helicopter, which is just about the most normal thing happening in this book. Stanzi, his kinda-girlfriend, is obsessed with dissecting animals and refuses to take off her lab coat because she thinks it protects her from harm. Stanzi’s best friend China has turned herself inside out (one day she’s an esophagus, another day she’s a large intestine), and their mutual friend Lansdowne tells lies to make her hair grow. Like I said: Weird. But once you begin to understand—or at least seek to understand—King’s metaphors, the book becomes beautiful, tragic, sad, hilarious, and poetic. I Crawl Through It is in a basket all its own; existing in its own surrealist subgenre, doing things that few YA books have done before.

Meanwhile, we’ve got The Hired Girl, which begins in 1911. The only weird thing about The Hired Girl is the fact that Joan, our main character, has somehow managed to hand-write more than 100K words in a single diary. That aside, it’s a compelling and entertaining read as precocious 14-year-old Joan runs away from her loveless farm life so she can become a “hired girl”—a.k.a., servant—in Baltimore. Joan has big dreams and a naïve worldview. She finds work with a Jewish family, but all Joan knows about Jews comes from Ivanhoe, so there are a few missteps. Joan is imperfect and there were times when I didn’t particularly like hanging out with her, but that’s one of the things I loved about this novel. Imperfect characters are true to human nature, and it’s what makes books interesting to begin with. Joan wouldn’t be able to experience much growth otherwise. Her maturation as a character was wonderfully pitched, as were the historical tidbits about hired-girl life in the early 20th century.

Both of these novels are worthy of your reading, and they are each beautifully written, but if I must choose a winner—and according to the pesky SLJ commander—then I have to go with I Crawl Through It. When I finished it, I immediately wanted to discuss it with someone. Like, anyone. I was ready to shove it into random strangers’ hands, sit across from them until they read the last page, then grill them for their insights. What do you make of the helicopter?, I would ask. What’s up with that dude and those letters, do you think? I had a thousand questions. The best part is, there are no solid answers. That’s the point of surrealist literature; it can be what you want it to be.

I Crawl Through It was an experience. The narrative style and structure is much more divisive to subjective readers’ tastes than The Hired Girl—and I’m sure I’ll get hate-comments from rabid fans of the latter—but in the end, King did something off the beaten path. There’s a part in the novel where a scar on a character’s leg speaks, and it made me want to cry. Sound ridiculous? Yes, but it isn’t. That’s what I loved so much about it.

It’s a book I won’t soon forget.

— Erin Kelly Entrada

I am one of those rabid fans of The Hired Girl. When I read I Crawl Through It, I found myself, yes, crawling through it. As much as I liked the concept, this book, by far, took me the longest out of all the books in the competition this year. The Hired Girl on the other hand… I absolutely loved it. I loved the familiarity of the story, and the endearing naiveté Joan possessed, and I thoroughly enjoyed her winding path to come into her own. Sure, I Crawl Through It was a coming of age story as well, each character trying to get through their traumas in the only way they know how, but The Hired Girl captivated me and actually made me want to read more. And besides, who doesn’t love Malka?

– Kid Commentator NS

And…fruit baskets. Really? OK, I’m resigned to it. And to be fair, this match is a hard one. The books are very different, and the only basis for comparison seems to be girls’ coming of age stories. One historical, one contemporary and “in its own surrealist subgenre, doing things that few YA books have done before.” In some ways, Entrada’s beautiful description sums up this battle, and the dilemma of BoB in general. Are we looking for an innovative new book that deals with subjects rarely addressed deeply, like mental health in I Crawl Through It and Challenger Deep (sort of The Nest)? Or does a masterful novel in an already established form win? Perhaps The Hired Girl is both: a historical tale told in the journal of a young girl – but dealing with religious co-existence issues, not something you get very often. I Crawl Through It is also one of a kind, though, and fully deserves the win. What better way to judge a battle than Entrada’s, where she chooses the book with both immediate and lasting impact?

– Kid Commentator RGN

Battle Commander (gravatar)





  1. Eric Carpenter says

    I was devastated when Drowned City was tragically defeated on Tuesday but now I can pull for an epic semifinals showdown between Challenger Deep and I Crawl Through It.

  2. Other Meredith says

    Another battle where I haven’t read either book yet! At least I’m not disappointed by the winner.

  3. Paige Ysteboe says

    At least I didn’t waste my undead vote. The Hired Girl was my favorite in the entire competition — it’ does such a wonderful job of showing a teenage girl in all her glory. As for I Crawl Through It — I just didn’t get it.

  4. Oh Joan, you and both had such delusional hopes of being taken seriously. It is crushing for both of us.

  5. Arise my undead! Heed the call of justice!
    Cast aside this travesty!
    O, Virtuous patience;
    Victory surely awaits!

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