The Disgrace of Kitty Gray by Mary Hooper
Sometimes it is nice to know when you pick up a book exactly what you can expect once you look inside. Mary Hooper is one of those authors that writes consistently gritty realistic historical dramas for young readers. They have strong female characters who are thrust into difficult situations that may be based directly on fact, or at least historically accurate settings. The girls may be more ‘modern’ in personality than is quite accurate, but that simply helps modern readers ‘get into’ the story.
Kitty has a very secure job as a milkmaid for the big house. She is learning all the dairying skills that will keep her in employment for her foreseeable future. She is being courted by the local river man, and all seems safe and comfortable in her world. But one day Will disappears. Kitty is stuck looking after his orphaned little sister, but again the family and other servants support her efforts, so aside from missing Will, not much has changed. But when one of the gentleman’s daughters sends her to London on an errand, suddenly life goes wrong, and gets worse. Imagine, a young woman alone in London with a toddler in tow. Who in 1813 is going to believe that she is an innocent milkmaid?
It is exactly this situation that makes this book so good. Schools can teach kids about changing morality and social customs. On the other hand experiencing the consequences of public scandal through the novel makes it real. Be warned, this is not for those who believe that children must have all happiness, sweetness and light.