Mark's Reviews > Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts by Martha Brooks
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"In my heart of hearts, I've always wanted a sixteenth birthday party. Yet even though it falls on an apparently special day, winter solstice, I'm not holding my breath - no pun intended.

Sunday again. Six days after me pneumothorax, the great day has at last arrived, finding Signy, the rick city girl, and me, the poor country girl, sitting, as usual, on bedpans.

TB, I'm beginning to discover, is a democratic kind of disease. The only requirement seems to be that you have lungs."

Marie-Claire Cote, 15, lives with her family in Manitoba, Canada - not far from the Pembina Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium. World War II is beginning to intensify, and while Marie-Claie's family is not in any danger from soldiers, TB is a real and present danger. At the beginning of the novel, an uncle arrives at the family's door, gaunt and tired from years on the road. It turns out he is in the final stages of TB, and after his death, Marie-Claire and her two younger siblings also contract the disease. All are admitted to Pembina, and Marie-Claire narrates her story as she worries over her brother and sister, and tries to come to terms with her new life inside the sanatorium's walls. She, her fellow patients and their doctors "chase the cure," and readers learn about a host of treatments that were attempted on TB patients. Marie-Claire is an entirely unsentimental patient, and feels bitter resentment at having her youth cut short by this sick twist of fate. Her story is presented with emotional honesty, and Marie-Claire finds her own definitions of family and friendship.

This novel was reminiscent, for me, of the author's TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HEARTLESS GIRL, in the way Brooks presents a female character who is not afraid to speak her mind, and clash with those in authority. But in this case, there's very little Marie-Claire can do to change her situation. She's sick, and needs to go through the treatments if she has any hope of leaving the sanatorium. The way Brooks presents her anger and eventual acceptance of her family's reaction to the disease is moving, as is the way Marie-Claire finds her way to friendship, even when that's the last thing she's looking for. A very strong, moving and emotional novel.
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