Showing 151 - 160 of 220 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn

What Girls Learn

Cook, Karin

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, this story about a single mother with two daughters who moves, marries, and dies of breast cancer handles a variety of difficult issues with sensitivity and spunk. A list of those issues--absent father, new stepfather, a thousand-mile move to a new social environment, first menstruation, sibling rivalry, an uncle with incestuous impulses, family secrets, sexual experimentation, cancer, and death--might make it sound like a catalogue of the trials of contemporary suburban young adulthood, but in fact the point of view of Tilden, the main character, keeps the story grounded in very believable, sometimes amusing, often poignant, recognizable truth about what it is to come into awareness of the hard terms of adult life.

The mother's cancer is narrated largely in terms of Tilden's experience of it: secrecy, eventual disclosure, partial information, losses of intimacy, feelings of betrayal, confusion about caregivers' roles, and in the midst of it all, the ordinary preoccupations of early adolescence. The generous and understanding stepfather and neighbors with limited but ready sympathies lighten some of the novel's darker themes.

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Fever 1793

Anderson, Laurie Halse

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

This historical novel for young adults details the horrors of the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic in 1793 from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old, Mattie, who runs a coffeehouse with her widowed mother and grandfather. In the course of the story, her mother is taken ill, she herself falls ill on the way to the safety of the countryside, and her grandfather dies of heart failure after nursing her. Separated from her mother who is also removed from the city, Mattie finds herself scrabbling for survival in a mostly deserted town after the death of her grandfather, but relocates the free black woman, Eliza, who had worked for her family and who essentially becomes part of her family.

Eventually the mother returns, an invalid but alive, and Eliza and Mattie undertake to run the reopened coffeehouse together and care for Eliza's nephews and an orphaned child Mattie has rescued. Hope reappears with the first frost in the forms of a reopened farmers' market, the return of George Washington to the town, and the reappearance from enforced isolation of Nathaniel Benson, a young painter who gives Mattie a vision of a future life with friendship and love.

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Summary:

This thorough and fascinating treatment of the politics of anatomy studies in 19th-century America provides a variety of perspectives on the vexed question of how appropriately to study human anatomy while also maintaining respect for the human body and honoring the various, deeply held community beliefs, and attitudes toward treatment of the dead. Sappol seeks, as he puts it, to "complicate the cultural history of medicine in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. . . by telling it from an anatomical perspective."

That statement of his objectives hardly suggests the startling range of approaches to the topic he takes in the book's nine chapters. These cover such issues as the legacies of belief about the "personhood" of the dead human body; the status of anatomy as both a legitimate and valuable study and also as an "icon of science"; the relationship of dissection and anatomy study to medical status and professionalization; the political tensions engendered by the "traffic in dead bodies" that most often expropriated corpses from marginalized communities; and the relationship of anatomy studies to sexual commerce and sensationalist fiction.

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Demon in the Freezer

Preston, Richard

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

This gripping narrative traces the history of the efforts to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the top-level decisions to keep a few vials of it for emergency purposes in American and Soviet freezers, and the reemergence of smallpox not only as a health threat, but as a potential bioweapon of unequaled destructive power. Preston details maverick natural cases that surfaced after worldwide eradication efforts, how it was discovered that undocumented reserves of smallpox were not only being kept, but researched and possibly "weaponized," and how hotly, in the US, teams of scientists and military intelligence personnel debated funding new smallpox research in the US with a view to developing a new vaccine as a defense.

The ethical issues in those debates are unprecedented in the scope of the possible public health threat and the variables that might make traditional vaccination ineffective against the weaponized virus. As in his previous books on biological threats, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event (see annotation), Preston follows the work and lives of several key scientists and includes scenes from interviews with a variety of persons involved in confronting the political, ethical, and medical dilemmas posed by smallpox research and efforts to track and control it.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator's father is in the hospital awaiting surgery that might be his last. She and her sister have been coming to the hospital regularly during his prolonged stay, and have become familiar with the cast of characters there, including an old man in a state of dementia who wanders the halls asking directions. The narrator reflects on her family, what can be spoken of and what can't, the different reactions they have to hospital regulations, crisis, impending loss.

She longs to tell her father she loves him, but is constrained by family reserve. As the family gathers at his bed before the surgery, she comes to realize some things will never be fully expressed, but must remain implicit. The unspoken is part of the loss she recognizes as she faces her father's death.

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Forged by Fire

Draper, Sharon

Last Updated: Jan-24-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

When Gerald is three, his mother, a drug addict, leaves him alone one time too often and he accidentally sets the apartment on fire. His mother is imprisoned for negligence, he goes to the hospital, and thereafter lives with "Aunt Queen," a great-aunt who exercises considerable authority from her wheelchair, and gives him all the love his mother hasn't.

When he is 9, however, his mother returns with a new sister and a man who claims to be the sister's father. They want to take him "home"; Gerald wants to stay with Aunt Queen. The matter is settled unhappily when Aunt Queen dies of a heart attack.

Gerald soon learns to despise his stepfather for his violence and, eventually, for the abuse of his half sister, which she hides out of fear until she's driven to confess it to Gerald in hope of his protection. Their mother remains in denial about that problem as well as her own and her husband's addictions to alcohol and drugs.

Caring for his sister, however, keeps love in Gerald's life. In defending her one last time, the apartment catches fire and his stepfather is killed. As he, his sister, and his mother ride away in the ambulance, a flicker of hope survives in the darkness for another new chapter in family life, this time without violence.

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Standing by Thistles

MacLeod, Anne

Last Updated: Aug-28-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The poems in this collection, written by a dermatologist, are not specifically about medicine or medical issues. Threading through them, however, is a sensibility that sees both the natural world and human relationships in terms of the great cycle of awakenings, rising passions, complex relationships, change, aging, and death. Many, though few run more than a page, have a narrative thrust; they offer windows on ordinary life that tie the particulars of events and encounters to large, seasonal, mythic rhythms and stories.

History is present in many poems, in the character of Persephone, for instance, in lacings of Gaelic language, in allusions to old stones and fires and (in the final long poem) to the historical Macbeth, immortalized inaccurately. Natural objects--bird songs, dolphins, nettles, an old pear tree--feature largely as anchoring images of poems that move gracefully from memories to metaphors, linking life observed with interior life lived alertly by a poet who plumbs small experiences for cosmic connections.

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Year of Wonders

Brooks, Geraldine

Last Updated: Aug-20-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The narrator of this historical novel, Anna Frith, works as a servant in the household of the local minister. The story recounts the horrific events in a plague-ridden village of 17th-century England. Anna, having lost her young husband in a mining accident, loses both her sons to the plague, as well as a boarder in her household who seems to have been the first case in the village.

After these losses, she stays her grief by tending the sick in many families. Particularly after the village works out terms of quarantine with the earl, no help but food and supplies comes in from outside. She learns much from the local herbalists, two midwives whose work she carries on after their violent deaths. In this work she develops a close partnership with the pastor's wife.

The story takes us through the whole trajectory of loss, accusations, spiritual struggle, shared grief, creative adaptations, and eventually emergence from sickness and quarantine. Anna's own journey takes some surprising turns as her confidence and clarity about her own mission grow and deepen.

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Say Yes Quickly

O'Connor, Mary Bradish

Last Updated: Aug-07-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of poems chronicles moments of felt experience in the writer's life before and after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Starting with a memory of a carefree childhood lived in an era when streets were sanitized with DDT, and a poem entitled "The Body is the Repository of Memory," the poems move freely from close-ups of moments in the hospital or grieving at the waterside to wide-angle views of a life that has been and still is normal, worth living, pulsing, albeit a bit more irregularly, with creative energies.

Cumulatively the poems explore the paradox that illness (and a terminal prognosis) changes everything and also, but for the shadow it casts, changes very little. "Still," she writes in a final line, "my wild heart beats." The poems are interspersed with prose-poems that shift the focus toward the writer's reflections upon the project and circumstances of creating this "memory board"--a term borrowed from the Luba people of Africa, who bead boards that represent memories to pass on as visible legacies of lives they believe worthy of being remembered.

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Getting Near to Baby

Couloumbis, Audrey

Last Updated: May-08-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Willa Jo and her little sister have been sent to stay with their aunt after the sudden death of their baby sister. Their aunt found them and their mother living in general squalor in the days after the baby's death, the mother in a state of serious depression. Willa Jo, the eldest, tries to cooperate, though she misses her mother and finds her aunt overly controlling. Her little sister has responded to the baby's death by ceasing to speak, and Willa Jo has the added burden of trying to speak for her and shield her from the pressure others put on her to speak.

As the story opens, the two girls have climbed onto the roof one morning, and are staying there, much to the distress of the aunt and several neighbors. As she sits there surveying the landscape, Willa Jo reflects back on the weeks since the death, giving the reader in flashback a chronology that combines both tragic and comic moments of coping with trauma and change.

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