Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review - In the Shadow of the Lamp

Susanne Dunlap
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
After being fired from her job as a parlormaid, young Molly Fraser stows away aboard the ship carrying Florence Nightingale and her nurses to Crimea. The work is horrifying and the hours are long, but Molly is determined to make her family (especially her mother) proud. She finds herself falling for a young doctor in spite of the strict rules Mrs. Nightingale has against her nurses socializing with the men. But the doctor isn't the only one she has feelings for -- there's also a boy from home who's joined the war in order to be closer to her.

I'm a bit torn over this book. On the one hand, I did like it and it was an interesting look into the character and legacy of Florence Nightingale. However, on the other hand there were parts of Molly's story that didn't seem to fit or ring true to the character.

Molly is a strong-willed character who manages to not only stowaway aboard the ship carrying Mrs. Nightingale's nurses, but also convince Nightingale to let her stay on as a nurse despite being much younger than the others (as well as untrained). Molly is determined to make her mother proud and pay back the money she borrowed to make the journey. I loved this version of Molly; she was smart, talented, and determined to make something of herself in spite of being turned out into the street after being betrayed by someone she thought was her friend.

However, as the story goes on a couple of different romantic storylines develop. In spite of the strict rules against socializing with the men, a romance grows between Molly and one of the doctors. At the same time, she finds herself contemplating marriage to a soldier she's known for quite a while. For me, this derailment into a romance-focused story really took away from the story of Molly becoming a nurse as well as changing her from a character who cares about following the rules and learning from Mrs. Nightingale, to breaking the rules and sneaking away. If it had seemed like she really had strong feelings for either of these men, maybe the effect would have been different, but that's not how it came across.

This book has a wonderful historical setting and backstory, as well as shedding light on Florence Nightingale and the early beginning of modern nursing practices, but the romance aspect got in the way of the rest of the story for me. However, I'm not generally a big fan of historical fiction, so this book may be better for those who do enjoy the genre.

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