If you were an American girl at any point in the '80s or '90s, then chances are you already know who the American Girls are. Maybe you had the dolls, complete with their little doll bedroom sets and their historically accurate chamber pots. Maybe you read all the books, played all the board games, and had constant debates with friends over whether you were a Josefina or a Samantha. Maybe you just have a faint memory of a character in a book named Jiggy Nye. Either way, here are a few times that the American Girl books ruined your childhood.
I mean, don't get me wrong, the American Girls were great. The dolls were expensive, but shaped like actual little girls, not like the spindly Barbies of our youth. The books were fun and educational, and introduced us to the different eras of American history. But, as with all historical fiction... sometimes those books got dark. One minute you're reading about Molly's birthday cake, the next minute you're learning about the horrors of child labor. Or child abuse. Or animal abuse, poverty, war, or slavery.
Of course, it's a good thing that the American Girl books dealt with the realities of history in an age-appropriate way. Even if it frightened us as small children. So here are a few of the moments when the American Girls taught you that American history is an unending nightmare:
1. When child labor laws weren't a thing
OK, let's be real, all of the of the Samantha stories involved Samantha being repeatedly shocked that poor people don't have money. Her best friend, Nellie, has to work long hours everyday in a factory to make one dollar a week, and it takes Samantha the whole freaking first book before she considers that her incredibly wealthy grandmother could maybe help Nellie out. I don't know which was more disturbing: the lack of child labor laws, or the fact that Samantha is too rich to be helpful.
2. When Jiggy Nye abused his horses
Jiggy Nye, man. He's the primary villain of Meet Felicity, and he does not treat his horses with respect. If you remember anything about Felicity, it's probably that she 1) has a horse, and 2) has something to do with the Revolutionary War, maybe? Well, she gets her horse by rescuing it from the clutches of Jiggy Nye, who lets his animals starve outside in the cold. He threatens to kill his horse, Penny, if Felicity keeps hanging around his animals... which just seems like a misguided attempt at revenge.
3. When Josefina’s mother was already dead
Josefina's mother died before the start of her series... and boy does she not let you forget it. If you're not crying by page one of Meet Josefina, you're basically a monster. You just want Josefina and her family to happy, to the point that you're actually glad and not creeped out when (spoiler alert) her dad marries her aunt at the end of book six, which was apparently not a weird thing to do in the 1820s.
4. Just… all of 'Meet Addy'
Not that it's a competition... but Addy's life is the hardest by a wide margin. She and her family live in slavery at the start of Meet Addy. You think that they're all going to escape together — but then her father and brother are sold. She is whipped for trying to say goodbye to her father, and forced to eat worms. Addy escapes with her mother, leaving her baby sister behind, and her mother nearly drowns. What were Samantha's problems again?
5. When Kit had to deal with economic reality
Kids love harsh economic realities, right? I'll admit that Kit wasn't my favorite American Girl growing up, because reading about thrilling escapes on horseback was a little more exciting than reading about Kit's family's slide into poverty. Still, Kit lived during the Great Depression. Her family lost everything, and her books taught a lot of us what the word "bankruptcy" meant.
6. When WWII happened
The Molly books were somehow both the most and least disturbing of the American Girl series. On the one hand, Molly spends her time going to summer camp and learning to tap dance and trying to curl her hair. On the other hand... her father is a medic in World War II. So you're just sitting there, reading about Molly's tap dancing, painfully aware that the Holocaust is going on in Europe at the very same time.
7. When Marta dies
Kirsten is the cheerful pioneer girl of the bunch, but don't be fooled by all those kittens on the cover. In Meet Kirsten, Kirsten's best friend Marta straight up dies of cholera before they even make it to Minnesota. Historically accurate? Sure, but still pretty bleak.
8. When everyone Kaya loves gets kidnapped or killed
Kaya was my favorite American Girl as a kid, based on the criteria that she had both a horse and a dog. But Kaya's life got pretty rough at times: she gets kidnapped and enslaved, her sister gets kidnapped and is missing for several books, her role model dies, her horse goes missing — it's a pretty stressful read.