“The Stolen Marriage” and “Blue”

Book Reviews by Michelle Goetzl

In Diane Chamberlain’s latest novel, “The Stolen Marriage,” a series of unfortunate events leads Tess DeMello to end her engagement to her childhood sweetheart and enter into a strange and loveless marriage with an enigmatic man. In trademark Chamberlain style, the novel has characters whose secrets get in the way of their ability to live their lives but manage to untangle themselves by the end.

There are two stories being told in “The Stolen Marriage.” The first focuses on the characters. Young Tess DeMello lives in Baltimore in the Little Italy neighborhood. She has dreams of being a nurse and marrying her childhood sweetheart who plans to be a pediatrician. While Vincent is off in Chicago fighting the polio epidemic, Tess begins to fear that he isn’t coming back to her.

Too much alcohol, bad judgment and bad luck change her life forever. Tess marries Henry Kraft and moves to Hickory, North Carolina. Knowing that Henry’s mother and sister do not approve of her, Tess struggles to understand her new husband and his lack of emotion.
At the same time, in Southern Gothic style, Chamberlain tells readers a story of the South in the 1940s when the polio epidemic came to Hickory. Chamberlain paints the picture of the powerful racial tensions permeating the South.

Chamberlain manages to lure the reader in with her ever unfolding story and with characters who tug on your heartstrings. Learning about the history of Hickory and truly contemplating the cultural, religious, and ethical restrictions that people lived with 75 years ago was impressive.

For another look at the polio epidemic that hit Hickory, consider the book “Blue,” by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. This novel is an outstanding look at the epidemic and at race relations from the eyes of a 13-year-old girl.

When protagonist Ann Fay’s father goes off to fight in World War II, she is left as the “man of the house” to take care of her mother, two younger sisters and a younger brother. While her father is away, her hometown gets severely hit by polio and her home is not spared.

Hostetter uses her work as a way to inform young readers about a disease that we no longer have to deal with, aptly illustrating what iron lungs were like and how families had to deal with quarantines. Hostetter also manages to look at segregation from a child’s perspective. If you want to open up an interesting conversation about history with a child, “Blue” is a great start.

 

Goetzl writes an online blog—“Books My Kids Read.” She loves books and sharing that love of reading with children. She can be reached at booksmykidsread@gmail.com