Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl

Frances M. Wood
For ages 9 to 12
Kane/Miller, 2010   ISBN: 978-1935279518

Molly’s father has been sick for a long time, so when he dies, it is not a big surprise to anyone. Molly’s big sister Colleen is “happy” for her father because his long ordeal is over at last. Molly fully expects for her life to go back to normal once the funeral and all the hoopla is over, so she is completely unprepared when Colleen announces that they are now very poor. In fact, they are so poor that they have to leave their home and their life in Streator, Illinois. Colleen has decided that she and Molly will apply for jobs as Harvey girls. Harvey Eating Houses serve passengers and other people along train routes all over the west, and the people in the company are always looking for “Young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, eighteen to thirty” to work in their establishments.  Molly is only thirteen, so she is going to have to pretend that she is a young woman instead of a girl.

When they get to Chicago, Molly expects that she and Colleen will work somewhere in that big city. At least Chicago is not too far from Streator, and Molly will be able to go home for Christmas. Molly is therefore appalled when she and Colleen are told that their future place of employment is in a Harvey Eating House in Raton, New Mexico.

When they get to Raton, the place is dusty, primitive, and Molly decides that her first priority will be to find a way to get herself and Colleen back home as soon as possible. Molly eyes the gentlemen who come to eat at the counter and in the dining room, hoping one of them would make a suitable husband for Colleen, a husband who will take her back to civilization. When that does not work, Molly writes – as Colleen – to a young man that they met on the train. Surely he would make a good match for Colleen. The last thing Molly expects is that she will grow fond of the people she works with, and that she will discover that Raton is not such a bad place to live in after all.

The Harvey Eating Houses gave many young woman jobs at a time there were few well-paid work opportunities for young women. It is fascinating to see how Molly’s Harvey House is the center of activities in Raton, and how the people there become a kind of family for Molly. Molly discovers that her preconceptions of the “Wild West” are based on fiction more than fact, and she also learns that sometimes it does not pay to meddle in other people’s affairs.

This thoroughly enjoyable book combines fact, fiction, and adventure beautifully, and it will give readers a fascinating picture of the past.