by Frances M Wood

Review

The last place Illinois-born Molly Gerry wants to be is Raton, New Mexico, but when her father finally dies of a long illness her older sister, Colleen, sees few options other than to lie about Molly's age and get them both jobs as waitresses on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe rail line.

At first Molly despairs of ever learning the "complicated kitchen reel" of the Harvey Eating House and instead focuses much of her energy on finding a way back to her comfortable and predictable home town. If she can convince Colleen to marry a boring and unromantic salesman - the best option she's found for attaining her goal - she can get away from the inelegant, alien landscape of New Mexico where unwashed men get drunk and shoot up street signs and the work of the desperado, Genius Jim, is a frequent topic of conversation.

But while she schemes her way to a brother-in-law, Molly befriends some of the kitchen staff: half-Mexican Susana and half-Indian Josiah who are close to her real age even if they are shunned by the other Harvey Girls, and the talented chef, Gaston, who takes Molly under his wing and teaches her how to cook. Molly eventually discovers that she loves food, is good at her job, and that she doesn't mind rough-and-tumble New Mexico either.

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl strikes just the right balance between adventure and historical realism, remembering who you are and adapting to new circumstances. Some suggestions for further research into life in the West can be found at the end of the book.

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