I think one of the things that would keep me from ever being a doctor is the thought of dissecting a corpse. I just can’t fathom being that close to a...moreI think one of the things that would keep me from ever being a doctor is the thought of dissecting a corpse. I just can’t fathom being that close to a dead body, let alone cutting it open. I would keep expecting it to lurch up and go for my brains. Keeping in line with my habit of reading about the exact thing I am afraid of, I couldn’t put Working Stiff down.
Dr. Melinek cuts open dead bodies for a living. Each day, she makes the Y-shaped incision into the torso, opens up the head when she needs to, breaks ribs, rummages around, and figures out why people die. Even better, she seems to genuinely enjoy her job. Dead bodies are fascinating, and she recounts the various ways that you might kick the bucket. Sometimes the body comes to her in a bucket, or in a mail container. Sometimes she has to go to the scene where the person is decomposing.
I couldn’t believe some of the amazing things the body can do when it dies. For example, one body was a suicide on the subway. There was no blood in the body or on the scene because it was completely absorbed into the marrow. Melinek also describes her time on the front line as a medical examiner during 9-11. It was a very striking chapter and really showed what first responders went through.
This was exactly the kind of book I like to read. The writing was engaging, the topic fascinating, and it didn’t pander or get cute with the subject matter. If you have an interest in death, forensics, true crime, or taboo topics, you’ll want to pre-order this one.
Book received courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley(less)
I love the history of the Salem Witch Trials. A native Southern Californian, when I had an internship in New England, the only weekend trip I took was...moreI love the history of the Salem Witch Trials. A native Southern Californian, when I had an internship in New England, the only weekend trip I took was to Salem. I’ve been there multiple times since I moved to Massachusetts, and find the history fascinating. When I saw that Katherine Howe was writing a new young adult novel that had some basis in the Salem hysteria, I knew it was a must read. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
Howe tries something interesting in Conversion. She links the current phenomena of mystery illness among high school students to the hysteria in Salem in the 1690s. The current school in Danvers, MA is a hotbed of stresses: girls worrying about grades, competing with each other for class rank, hoping to get into their ideal colleges, and, of course, boys. Then, the coolest girl in school starts to twitch uncontrollably in class.
This book had so much promise. It just didn’t work for me for the reason that some other young adult books by adult novelists don’t work. Howe doesn’t write in a convincing teen voice. Her first-person narrator comes across as inauthentic and stilted. On top of that, it takes her much too long to draw certain connections that are obvious to readers from the outset. There was much face-palming while I read this book.
While young adult fiction must seem like a goldmine, not all authors should attempt it. It isn’t as easy as it seems to write a good young adult novel, and Howe just doesn’t pull it off. It’s too bad. Conversion is a good idea, poorly executed.(less)