I received a copy of this book from Albert Whitman & Company/Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoy reading young adult historical fiction, so I was very excited about the opportunity to read Of Better Blood. Author Susan Moger has written several educational books and teaching materials, but this is her first novel.
Rowan Collier comes from a “good” family. She lives with her father and older sister in relative affluence, but that all changes when she contracts polio at the age of 11. Five years later, Rowan has regained the strength in her paralyzed leg, and she can walk with a cane. She never returned home after her diagnosis, and has spent all that time living in various hospitals. When the story begins, she is spending the summer in the most humiliating way: playing the role of the “crippled” daughter in a traveling production about Fitter Families sponsored by a eugenics council.
It is there that Rowan meets Dorchy, a young “carnie”. Dorchy and Rowan come from different backgrounds, but their friendship is quite organic. The two girls eventually escape the fair life, and end up at a summer camp off the coast of Maine. This camp is also run by a eugenics council. At first, it seems like a wonderful opportunity, but the girls quickly realize that something sinister is happening at this camp. It is revolting, and terrifying, and Rowan is determined to put a stop to it.
Of Better Blood is a well-written book. Rowan is a very insightful narrator, and she is not afraid to stand up for what she thinks is right. Rowan has been virtually abandoned by her family after her polio diagnosis, and she is quite stoic about the direction her life has taken. As the story progresses, Moger builds suspense quite nicely; the fate of the campers is hinted at, but is not immediately clear.
I would absolutely recommend Of Better Blood. This might be the target audience’s first exposure to our nation’s shameful past regarding eugenics. Rowan Collier, and many of the specific events in the book are fictional, but eugenics was a very real medical practice that increased in popularity in the first part of the twentieth century. Of Better Blood offers an honest and unflinching look at the way the “unfit” were treated less than one hundred years ago.