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394 pages, Hardcover
First published May 3, 2011
He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness.
With his mother’s devoted care, the two-month-old came through his operation [for a cleft palate] well. The only visible reminder of the birth defect was a scar on his upper lip, which would give his smile a crooked charm all his life. His palate, on the other hand, remained unavoidably misshapen, and when the toddler began to talk, Alice was the only one in the world who could understand a thing he said. Truth be told, everybody but his mamma suspected the boy was a half-wit, but Alice was certain her son was as bright as a new penny, and mothers always know.
So she shielded John Henry from his father’s embarrassment and shame…She studied Plutarch on the education of children, and with Demosthenes as her guide, Alice Jane set out to improve her child’s diction…