Maggie Higgins dreams of escaping the drudgery of the endless household duties that are a poor woman’s lot in Corning, New York, in the late 1800s.
Maggie is challenged by living with many siblings, her consumptive mother, and her freethinking, but somewhat shiftless, father. Inspired by the life of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, Mann (Scar, 2016, etc.) has created a sympathetic character in the rebellious Maggie. Most of the book’s chapters move chronologically from the first introduction of 10-year-old Maggie in 1889 through her childhood, schooling, and departure for her new life as a nursing student in 1900. However, several chapters are set in 1899. The two timelines converge as Maggie copes with her mother’s final illness and wrestles with her father’s disapproval of her aspirations. Many of the most dramatic scenes are based in fact, as explained in the author’s note, although more minor scenes and characters are fictional. Maggie’s occasional thoughts (“I’ve almost never known my mother alone in her own body”) make clear the seeds of Sanger’s passion for family planning. The historical note provides additional information about her lifework and notably defends Sanger against the charges of racism that have been leveled against her in recent years. All characters are assumed white.
An important, readable novel about Sanger, who changed the fate of millions of women through access to contraception. (historical note, author’s note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 11-17)