A teenage boy grows up on the grounds of a hospital for unwed pregnant teens in DeTournay’s debut novel.
Fourteen-year-old Rene Dardenne has never been to a city as large as St. Paul, where his mother has moved him to take a job as a nurse at the Booth Memorial Home and Hospital, a Salvation Army–run institution that serves young, unwed mothers. “Our two busiest times of the year are the result of New Year’s Eve and Prom Night,” explains a Salvation Army officer on their arrival. “The New Years’ are delivering now, and we expect Prom Nights to arrive three or four months after conception, which is also about now.” Rene and his mother will be residing on premises. As one of only two men living on the property—the other is an elderly caretaker named Max—Rene gets a crash course in all things female, from garter belts in the bathroom to the sounds of giving birth. Rene, a Roman Catholic obsessed with the parameters of sin, is highly embarrassed by his new living circumstances and does whatever he can to keep them secret from the kids at his new school. Even so, he can’t help but get involved in the complex, dramatic lives of the 50 girls who live at the home, each of whom has a colorful backstory and is undergoing one of the most emotional experiences of her life. Their struggles with stillbirths, adoption, shame, and isolation force Rene to rethink his definition of sin—and to grow up faster than he might have otherwise. DeTournay writes with humor and compassion, adeptly depicting the characters and their late-1940s Midwestern milieu: “I was embarrassed how quickly she saw through me, but at least, I got my unasked question answered. She jumped at the sound of gunshots and the wail of a World War II air raid siren. It was midnight, and the noise announced the arrival of 1950 in St. Paul, Minnesota.” The environment of the hospital is compelling and often heartbreaking, so much so that the reader will be instantly invested and committed for the remainder.
A coming-of-age story set in a remarkable hidden world.