Evvy Hoffmeister is thirteen years old when her family brings her to Loon Lake Sanatorium to get cured of tuberculosis (TB). Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings; the rules to abide are harsh and the nurses equally rigid. But Evvy soon falls into step with the other girls in her ward. Set in 1940 at a time of political unrest throughout the U.S. and Europe, this thought-provoking novel sheds light on a much-feared worldwide illness. (goodreads summary)
In May of 1940, 13 year old Evvy Hoffmeister is admitted to the Loon Lake Sanatorium in Minnesota. She was sent away from her family with the hopes of recovering from Tuberculosis. Upon her arrival, she is faced with many strict rules such as; plenty of rest, no talking, no stress on the lungs by coughing or crying and definitely no moving out of bed. She will be sharing a room with three girls named Dena, Pearl and Sarah and tries to settle into the rigid daily routines. Despite the many uncertain days that loom ahead, the girls' friendships blossom, pulling strength from one another that will help pull them through their illness and hopefully onto the road to recovery.
I really enjoy books that not only tell a story but also one that a child will learn from. I found this very moving historical fiction one of these books. It was not only about having an illness and surviving but it also focuses on the friendships that formed because of it. The day-to-day struggles were well written and I felt the main character Evvy being a real person. The head nurse they called Old Eagle Eye just added to the feeling of what it was like staying at a sanatorium under strict orders. The chapters are short with many vintage illustrations throughout. They added a great visual representation of the time as well. Each girl adds her own story, strength and personality bringing the friendships closer with each slow moving day. Evvy finds that she has a talent for writing which she decides to try her hand at with her exploration through poetry. Not all have a happy ending but it is the reality of an illness with no cure. The author does not sugar coat death when a patient dies from a hemorrhage or the effects the disease had on the body. Many people either made it or they didn't with some even having to reside at sanatoriums for years. It was a time I pictured vividly and learned many new things I never realized after reading Evvy's story because I never experienced it. I did walk away with a stronger knowledge and understanding of something other than just a diagnosis or a term. I think if kids try and go into this book with an open mind, not looking for action or suspense, they may view it to be a very informative read.
At the end of the book, I loved that the author gives many more facts about TB and details of her research leading up to this book. I learned for example that after Eleanor Roosevelt died, an autopsy discovered she had Tuberculosis and that the author of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, Betty MacDonald, wrote The Plague and I which was based on her time at a sanatorium. Afterwards, there is another section devoted to full description of the chapter illustrations and once again, more things I did not know. I saw the book is intended toward an 8-14 age group but feel it would be better suited for an older audience. Tuberculosis is more than a cough and the description of symptoms and the patients trying to survive this terrible illness may be scary for the younger group. I am glad that this book gives voice to a sad time and forgotten or unknown part of our history. I think this is a "just right book" book for ages 11-14.~
Title: Breathing Room
Author: Marsha Hayles
Genre: Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 2012, Henry Holt and Co.
Hardcover, 244 pgs.