Monday, March 30, 2009

Sue Barton, Visiting Nurse

Helen Dore Boylston, il. Major Felten (jacket)
1938, Little, Brown

Not many of the houses looked prosperous and most of them were grimy; yet the street had charm, for traces of another era lingered in the crookedness of windows and doors, in the casual little yards, in old-fashioned wooden porches elaborate with scrollwork. New York roared around the street and above it. An icy wind from the harbor swept through it, blowing paper into the faces of pedestrians and tearing at the "For Rent" sign swinging over the door of the smallest house on the street - a tiny red brick house with green shutters and a white door.

Sue Barton and her friend Kit Craig have graduated from school and come to New York City (all 3 boroughs) to work for the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service, a branch founded by Lillian Wald to improve slum conditions. In distinctive blue uniforms and toting large medical bags, they learn on the job about the challenges facing poor immigrants in neighborhoods all over New York. Their good friend Constance Halliday is not there because she's going to get married, but Sue has postponed her marriage to Dr. William Barry to work for a few years. Sue loves her work with Henry Street, and the excitement and novelty of New York, but as the year wears on and Bill gets impatient for their wedding, she feels torn between the job she loves and the man who loves her.

For a heroine in 1938, Sue's pretty gutsy about her own career ambitions. She does, finally, find a compromise to giving up her work and giving up her boy, but she gives him some pretty tough arguments first. The slums and streets of the city are given the same sort of colorful/crowded/exciting treatment that they usually get, and remind you irresistably of a Cagney movie. Descriptions of the poor immigrants and blacks Sue works with feel dated, particularly some dialogue, but the author clearly wants to communicate the both the wide range of peoples in New York and their essential decency, which are both very modern and pleasing attributes. Sue helps a depressed young Polish girl, an Irish child, a Polish woman, and assorted people of no distinct ethnicity, as well as several African-Americans (not so called in the book, of course); more importantly, she is helped by a bustling Italian woman, an Irish cop, a rabbi, and others. One oddity is the utter lack of any Catholic priests, considering the many Poles, Irish and Italians.

The style is plain and not particularly evocative or involving. The character of Sue is strong and vibrant, and the engine for the whole book. Her delight in the streets of New York, the people she meets, etc., lend the rather prosaic descriptions their power. The imagination fills in quite a lot from other books and from movies. There is a mystery, a romance, and a wedding, but the main story is the hard work of the nurses in a big city teeming with poor and working people.

Other Books

Sue Barton
Sue Barton: Student Nurse
Sue Barton: Senior Nurse
Sue Barton: Visiting Nurse
Sue Barton: Rural Nurse
Sue Barton: Superintendent Of Nurses
Sue Barton: Neighborhood Nurse
Sue Barton: Staff Nurse

Carol Page
Carol Goes Backstage
Carol Plays Summer Stock
Carol On Tour

Other information
The Tiny Pineapples website contains a frighteningly complete list of nursing-themed books.

Other Editions