From acclaimed author and registered nurse Amanda Skenandore, The Alienist meets The Light of Luna Park in a fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America’s first nursing school, as a young female grifter in 1880s New York evades the police by conning her way into Bellevue Hospital’s training school for nurses…
In the slums of 1880s New York, Una Kelly has grown up to be a rough-and-tumble grifter, able to filch a pocketbook in five seconds flat. But when another con-woman pins her for a murder she didn’t commit, Una is forced to flee. Running from the police, Una lies her way into an unlikely refuge: the nursing school at Bellevue Hospital.
Based on Florence Nightingale’s nursing principles, Bellevue is the first school of its kind in the country. Where once nurses were assumed to be ignorant and unskilled, Bellevue prizes discipline, intellect, and moral character, and only young women of good breeding need apply. At first, Una balks at her prim classmates and the doctors’ endless commands. Yet life on the streets has prepared her for the horrors of injury and disease found on the wards, and she slowly gains friendship and self-respect.
Just as she finds her footing, Una’s suspicions about a patient’s death put her at risk of exposure, and will force her to choose between her instinct for self-preservation, and exposing her identity in order to save others.
Amanda Skenandore brings her medical expertise to a page-turning story that explores the evolution of modern nursing—including the grisly realities of nineteenth-century medicine—as seen through the eyes of an intriguing and dynamic heroine.
Disclaimer: Although I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of this book from the publisher, as part of a blog tour, the opinions below are my own.
How do you make a criminal likeable, or at least a sympathetic character? It’s a question that’s plagued many an author for decades. In The Nurse’s Secret Amanda Skenandore has faced that problem and superbly overcome it, creating a riveting story in the process.
I didn’t want to like Una. She is a thief, after all. She picks pockets mostly to survive but thinks nothing of the people she robs. That doesn’t mean she’s a murderer, but her low status in society makes her an easy suspect. Due to Skenandore’s careful writing, the reader gradually learns about Una’s past and how she came to be the woman she is at the start of this story. And so, we readers wonder if Una can survive nursing school? How can she abide to the rules of the school when she’s used to the rules of the streets? And we find ourselves cheering for Una and hoping she becomes the woman we know she can be.
The Nurse’s Secret isn’t only about a thief. It’s about old methods of doctoring versus new. We wince when the senior doctor uses techniques that we now know to be dangerous and dismisses the modern methods of the trainee doctor. There’s the social divide between the haves and have-nots: this is a novel set during the Gilded Age and the differences are massive. Skenandore’s location descriptions are immersive, enabling us to picture ourselves in them. Then there’s the tension as Una attempts to solve the murder case so she can be free.
I found this book to be an easy, enjoyable, read. The chapters are short, meaning you can take a break at almost any point in the narrative. The language is difficult to digest at time; not only is there plenty of slang, reflecting Una’s life, it’s not always polite. This isn’t exactly a cozy mystery. My main disappointment was with the ending, which I thought was abrupt and ambiguous. Yes, the murder mystery is solved, but I wanted more. I might not have liked Una initially, but I would’ve liked to have read more of her story.
Publication Date: 28 June 2022
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Amanda is the author of Between Earth and Sky, winner of the American Library Association’s 2019 Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction, and The Undertaker’s Assistant, released from Kensington in July 2019.
She grew up in the mountains of Colorado and sang and danced her way through 68 cities on both sides of the Atlantic with the service organization Up with People before starting college. Her love of historical fiction started early with the stories of Kenneth Thomasma, Mark Twain, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
When she’s not writing, Amanda works as an infection prevention nurse. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and their pet turtle Lenore.
Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Between Earth and Sky was her first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.