This is a deeply touching, fascinating story that weaves together two aspects of American history still prevalent today: bigotry and second class citizenship for women. There is a skillful weaving of these aspects with the background of a major polio outbreak in the 1940’s South Carolina. Ms. Chamberlain uses this historical along with Hickory polio hospital as the backdrop for a heart rendering story of a young woman whose life is extremely altered by an incident that changes everything for her. Tess DeMello is a nursing student in Baltimore awaiting her wedding and her graduation from nursing school. Her intended, Vincent, is a doctor involved in polio research in Chicago. On a fateful trip to Washington, D.C., with her friend, a life altering event happens to Tess and nothing is the same from that point forward.
She ends up in rural Hickory, South Carolina, living in a loveless home and suffocating under the hatred she feels and under the burdens of life in the South.
When the polio epidemic reaches a terrifying level, the people of Hickory band together to build a polio hospital in fifty-four hours. It is Tess’ saving grace as she defies her family and volunteers as a nurse at the facility. So much of the story truly unfolds from there and it is amazing, captivating and intense.
For me, the intensity of the poor treatment of Tess by her family was so difficult to read as I know this type of meanness and cruel treatment was part and parcel with rural areas as it can be anywhere still. Tess is treated like a second class citizen with abject criticism and outright contempt by those she was hoping would grow to love her. Her spouse, Henry, is cold and distant to the loving and kind Tess compounding her misery. While I read, I kept hoping for a change in the attitudes but in my reading heart I knew this would not happen.
This is a thoroughly engaging story about love, hardships, and redemption.
(Available October, 2017)