Author: Susan Moger
Publisher: Aw Teen
Published Date: February 1st 2016
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Disability
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★.5
Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against "the unfit." It's 1922, and eugenics the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the "feeble-minded," and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with "fitter family" contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself."
"I understand that the fire is a turning point, a hinge. It opened a door inside me that I had given up looking for... After tonight I'm no longer someone who lets people do things to her."
The book is broken up into three different parts each taking place during one summer where Rowan goes on a multitude of different adventures, some she wanted to while others that she didn’t. Throughout these adventures we get to see a wide variety of characters as well as the disabilities that some of them had. As well as some truly awful people that will make you sick to your stomach at times with what they do.
"I hate the ragged clothes and the idiotic things Mr. Ogilvie tells me to do. And I hate the people in the audience who think they're not only better off than we are, but better in every way."
We first get to see Rowan as a 16 year old young woman, who is being forced to be a part of an unfit family show, where people with disabilities are made fun of for things that are out of there control, and are shown as people that shouldn’t be able to have kids. None of the people in this show are bad people. They just aren’t what society sees as normal and because of that they are seen as unfit and people that shouldn’t be allowed certain things in life for no reason other than small minded people using their authority in very wrong ways.
We then jump back in time when Rowan first got Polio and how it changed her life forever. She was 11 years old and was basically left by her father in the care of some doctors while he went off to war. Her big sister Julia was supposed to make sure that she was well taken care of. We jump back again at different times to Rowan’s childhood and see what her father and sister were like and how the they believed that with good genes you would never get sick and if you ever got certain sickness that you would be seen as unfit and should in a way no longer be seen as a part of certain families.
"I look like what I'm supposed to be, a helpless quitter who fell and can't reach her crutch."
We get to see these jumps back in time every so often, each giving us a better understanding of why Rowan feels the way she does about certain things and why for a while she was content with just doing what she was told.
"The interviews are meaningless. They confirm the interviewer's opinions about the interviewee. They are as fake as Gilda, Half Woman, Half Snake; as prejudiced and demeaning as the unfit family show."
As time goes on though and with the help of Dorchy Rowan grows and changes and sees that she can be so much more then what she is at the moment. That certain people have no right to say that she is unfit and to place a stigma on her and others with disabilities just because they can’t do certain things. With this new power that she feels she not only is able to change her life but so many other children’s lives as well.
Dorchy is such a great character as well. Not only does she befriend Rowan but she also teaches her so many things about life that she wouldn't have learned without her. Without Dorchy I don't think I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did.
"You saved us. I should have saved you."
Overall I really loved this book. At times it was tough to read during certain parts because of what was happening to the children that were seen as unfit. But I believe it was fairly accurate, with how certain people viewed others that weren’t the exact same as them. We know for a fact that people with disabilities were treated horribly, and as inhuman so that they could be experimented on, and I feel like that really captured that while as well as showing how those children’s life were like a little bit, and how some were able to get out, and stop others from being treated that way as well. Before reading this book I didn’t really know much about Polio or how it would affect you long term because it’s just not something that was talked about. I also didn't know that people are still getting polio today. Granted not near the amount as in the early 1900’s but still enough that it should be talked about more. I also really liked how Rowan while seen by the majority of adults as unfit, was also given a chance by a certain doctor to be like people that didn’t get Polio and that just because she had had this thing happen to her didn’t mean that she still wasn’t smart, and capable of doing other things. We need more stories like this that show that side of things as well. Rowan might not have been able to walk without a crutch, but she still could offer the world so much, and I am very glad that that side of her was shown and the Polio wasn’t just the only focus.
"The doctor said to that witch Vera, "No one leaves the island alive."
I really feel like everyone should read this book, not just because of how it shows both sides of disability, but because of how historically accurate it is and how it shows a little bit about how Hitler’s master race started to become a thing, and how certain groups in America were trying to make it happen here as well.
I would love to see more historical fiction books written by Moger that deal with other less talked about things in history. She was able to weave both fiction and historical accuracy in a way that made it seem so seamlessly and like you were there with the character as well.
"From the very beginning, you believed that I would walk again. You made me believe it. And now that I'm walking and climbing and riding waves, I know I can help other patients believe in themselves."
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.