Thursday, 13 October 2011

Review: Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks

Title: Queen of Hearts
Author: Martha Brooks
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Publication Date: July 19th, 2010
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

In the summer of 1940, Marie-Claire’s life changes forever when her Oncle Gerard comes to live with her family. He entertains his nieces and nephew with stories of the shadow man, despite the fact that he is getting sick. When her uncle is diagnosed with tuberculosis, he is sent to a near by sanatorium where he lives throughout his final days. After his death, Marie-Claire goes on with life as normally as she can, filling her time working on the family farm and even going to a dance with a soldier. When Marie-Claire and her younger brother and sister are diagnosed with TB, they are all sent to the sanatorium where their uncle died a year earlier. Marie-Claire is angry with her parents, with God and even with her cheerful roommate, Signy. As Marie-Claire “chases the cure,” she wonders if she will ever be able to live a normal life again. As she grows up while fighting TB in a sanatorium, Marie-Claire learns about love, loss and friendship.

I was interested in this book because my Great-Grandfather died of TB in a sanatorium in Ontario, Canada in the early 1920s. In Queen of Hearts, Marie-Claire and her family are sent to a sanatorium in Manitoba, Canada. Since I knew fairly little about the treatment of TB, I thought I’d give this book a try. At first, I thought the writing was a bit coarse and hard to get used to. There was little build up to Oncle Gerard, and then Marie-Claire, contracting TB, and I wish we had seen more of Marie-Claire’s life before she was sent to the sanatorium. Things picked up when we are introduced to Signy, Marie-Claire’s roommate in the hospital. In many ways, the two girls are opposites. Marie-Claire is a hardworking farm girl, and Signy is an upper class city girl. While Marie-Claire is openly angry about her situation, Signy does her best to put on a cheerful face. Signy was a great character and my heart really went out to her. While sometimes I was frustrated with Marie-Claire, but I liked how she was headstrong and how she dealt with her losses much better than I ever would have. I think this book’s strongest asset was its emotional effect. Although it was sad, I was still able to enjoy it and feel like there was hope in the end. As a piece of historical fiction, I think Brooks did a very good job of showing life in the sanatoriums and how not only the poor were touched by TB. Set during World War II, I liked how the novel showed a girl going through a different kind of war at home. It was a short and fairly simple novel, but it managed to portray a realistic and poignant story about a part of history that is some times overlooked.

Overall, Queen of Hearts provided an in-depth look into a part of Canadian history that I knew fairly little about. It was definitely worth reading, and although there were some flaws, it was a memorable coming of age story set in a tuberculosis sanatorium.


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