Moger's debut novel tackles a little-studied chapter of American history.
Sixteen-year-old Rowan Collier has always been privileged—her father, a scientist, taught her that Colliers are "the fittest of the fit." But when she contracted polio at age 11, the growing eugenics movement plunged her into the insidiously sinister meaning of "fitness." Now, in 1922, Rowan is forced to perform as a cripple in the Betterment Council sideshow denouncing "unfit families": sick or disabled people, immigrants, and others deemed unfit to reproduce. When Rowan and her mischievous friend, Dorchy, escape the carnival, they become counselors at the Council's prophetically named Camp for Unfortunates and discover horrifying experiments they must stop. Unfortunately, Rowan's habit of summarizing chapter events slows the novel’s momentum. Threaded through the seedy carnival and camp action and Rowan's flashbacks are classism, accounts of sterilization, and the subtle chill of supremacism couched in concern—even love. Rowan's conflicts with privilege and family loyalty emphasize how easily eugenics could take root, and there are no easy endings; the epilogue hints at future medical atrocities, implicating the eugenics movement as a precursor to the horrors of Nazi Germany. An author's note provides a brief explanation and complicates popular historical figures, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Graham Bell, by revealing their support of eugenics.
Sure to spark difficult but necessary discussions.(author's note) (Historical fiction. 13-16)