In 1940, the year in which this young adult novel is set, the war in Europe raged on and tuberculosis was a terrible scourge on the American public health scene. The disease was highly contagious and medical science was unsure of effective and safe treatment. Families lived in terror of acquiring this dread disease and watching it spread from one family member to the next. One of the most common treatments was the “rest cure” in which a patient was sent to a sanitarium for an aggressive, harsh-seeming course of medical treatment and separated for long periods of time from family and friends with even postal mail and mementos from home often restricted. The story follows about a year in the lives of several young girls, patients, and roommates in this type of sanitarium. They need, in spite of their precarious physical and psychological conditions, to find ways to support one another through this trying ordeal and its many challenges, frequently watching many around them die and each continually wondering whether she will be next. One of the roommates is Jewish and in addition to all the other intense pressures inherent in the situation, she must hide her Jewishness for fear of not receiving proper care in the anti-Semitic climate of the area and the time. When her roommate uncovers this closely guarded secret, she too must share in the responsibility of keeping her friend’s background private in an environment where privacy is a luxury impossible to rely upon. The bravery, strength, and character of the young protagonists are inspiring; the old-fashioned words “pluck” and “grit” come most readily to mind. This is a gripping read on a topic not often addressed to the young adult audience and is highly recommended for ages 10 and up.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.