Nurse Honey Kirkwood’s cheerful outlook on life made the hospital “routine” a pleasant, humane way to help her fellowmen. When off duty, Honey’s attractive face and ready smile made her irresistible—that is, to all but serious-minded Dr. Vincent Dragone. For Dr. Dragone, nurses did not seem to exist, except as assistants in the O.R. (Operating Room). Honey tried in every way she knew to arouse the handsome young intern’s interest, but his attitude toward her was strictly professional. The fact that three other young men were in love with her did not make Dr. Dragone’s indifference any easier to take. What do I want? Honey repeatedly asked herself. She found what she was looking for in her work … and in the man who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Interns’ purses were just about as flat as their manners, and probably the poor things couldn’t help either.”
“There was a certain sort of clan esprit about the hospital, even if you did need a stethoscope and a microscope and a sabbatical leave to find it.”
“That smile could cause riots.”
“He was going to die, and was taking too long because the hospital gave him such excellent care.”
Mary Stolz was a prolific writer for young adults, and, indeed, Hospital Zone was originally marketed to the young adult market. Here, however, it has been repurposed for the VNRN reader, and if the age of the heroine determines the literary niche, then a good number of VNRNs could likewise be designated young adult fiction. Honey Kirkwood, whose given name will rank alongside Candy and Poppy as the more unfortunate monikers I’ve met in this genre, is a 19-year-old student nurse with at least three beaux and a good idea of how to manage them: “Every time he comes into your mind, you just have to shove him out again, and after a while he quits coming around.”
Most of the book follows Honey throughout her daily life, caring for patients that are kind or mean, getting well or dying, sympathetic or irritating. She lives in a dorm full of lively fellow students, and the dialogue is snappy and smart when she’s with her peeps. As is common with the young adult genre, Honey is grappling with existential problems common to the young: who she is as a person, what she wants from life and her relationships with men. She waxes philosophical about the usual tripe that VNRNs of this period hand out, that “for girls the entire point of life was men.” But she actually sits down to think that over, unlike most heroines we read about who just gulp it down without swallowing. Early on, she does decide that “when you’d found him, and you knew, all the rest would just fall in line because you’d be a whole person and a whole person takes life whole, not in pickings as if it were a tray of canapés.” The nice thing about this is that along her way, Honey meets an elderly woman who tells her that even one’s “true love” fades with time, that there are other loves to be had. Honey immediately discards this as impossible, but the wise patient is proved correct in the end, when Honey fails to land the big fish, another groundbreaking development in VNRNs.
But we need not feel too sorry for Honey, as she is seldom without male company: She dates her three boyfriends, one more than the others, and that one, Joey, proposes about midway through the book. Honey wisely declines to answer, saying, “I’m too young”—and I was mighty pleased that for once a heroine wasn’t finding her purpose in life from a little golden circle. But through it all she’s mooning for the aloof Dr. Dragone, a handsome but inaccessible doctor with whom she has occasional exchanges. At book’s close he’s going to a residency in New York and Honey is left with the realization that she does love him and she can’t have him, but that the pain will pass and she will go on and be a better person for having known, and valued, him. It makes for a far weightier ending than the usual nurse novel, one that’s actually worth 173 pages. Even if it falls a smidge outside the strict definition of a nurse romance novel, I am glad not to have missed this impressive little book.