I recently read The Illness Lesson last week. I can not remember where I got this recommendation from, but it may have been from my library or Amazon. I have only recently started reading historical fiction, but I thought this one was nicely written. I have also read a couple of other reviews of the book from reviewers that did not think it was worth 5 stars. Their reviews made me think about their points, but did not change the fact that I enjoyed reading it. Here are my thoughts after reading it.
Book Review by KJLamon
Women and girls in 1871 are expected to be timid and become productive members of society by being wives and mothers. Samuel Hood believes women and girls should be taught as boys, to think, understand, use logic, and reflect. To that end, he raised and taught his daughter, Caroline, to think independently. But Caroline finds herself at a crossroads. While her father sees her abilities, the rest of the world is filled with skeptics about women’s ability to learn as men.
With the return of trilling heart birds to the area, her father takes it as a sign and opens Trilling Hearts school for girls. Soon after a strange affliction consumes the eight students attending. Caroline, Samuel, and the other teachers must figure out what this mysterious illness is and how to treat it before it spreads and the girls worsen. Will an extreme procedure help relieve the girls of their ailments? Or will it hurt them more? How will their lives be changed? What does The Darkening Glass novel have to do with Caroline’s mother?
The Illness Lesson is a wonderfully intriguing historical novel by Clare Beams. Beams writes authentic characters around a well structured and paced plot. I enjoy her use of imagery and descriptions of the trilling heart birds and Caroline’s imaginative thoughts of the birds and the happenings of the novel.
My favorite character in The Illness Lesson is Caroline. She is a strong and intelligent female character. I can empathize with her inner turmoil. Her questions and misunderstanding of her feelings about David are universal to both women and men. I think being raised without female models to balance her father’s intellectual teachings and his constant pursuit of knowledge causes most of her bewilderment. The short-lived and angst-filled romance of Caroline and David throughout The Illness Lesson, while not altogether one-sided, reinforces this thought. For example, at one point Caroline “…wished someone had taught her how to know if such offering, after all this time, was for her.”
On the other hand, my least favorite character is Hawkins. He is pompous and condescending. Hawkins, while touting that his treatments were the latest medical procedures, never takes his patients into consideration or the harm he is clearly doing. At one point, it is clear to Caroline that he does not care. He is described in the novel as “…the sort of man who never considered himself an amateur at anything.” I think that distinguishes him from Samuel. Where Samuel thought he was doing what was best for the students, and later shows concern for the methods used, Hawkins never does.
In conclusion, I give The Illness Lesson 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to young adult and adult readers that enjoy historical fiction. This novel was an unexpectedly intriguing read for me. If you decide to read The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
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