Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mary Adams, Student Nurse

By Alice Brennan, ©1964
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

Every time Mary Adams, student nurse, entered the hospital she felt exhilarated and excited. Her blue eyes shone with the pride of wearing her white cap. But the cap was only the beginning. She still had to earn the right to wear the white uniform of the graduate  nurse. Her days were very full. She carried a full schedule of classes: biology, anatomy, physiology. And there was her “on duty” time. Each day Mary saw the drama of a big-city hospital. Birth, death and disease were part of her life now. And she loved every minute of it … until the day she found that heartbreak was also part of a nurse’s life and she had to learn to accept the responsibility of growing up.


“Blondes usually turn out to be cold and egotistical.”

“I don’t know why everyone has to think I’m a louse just because I’m prettier than the rest of you.”

“Interns don’t bite. We can’t afford to.”

I just finished this book last week, and now I’m damned if I can remember a single thing about it. Part of the problem may be the fact, advertised nowhere on the outside of the book, is that this is a “Juvenile Nurse Novel,” apparently a genre of its own in the day, much like the Young Adult Supernatural Romance section I saw in Barnes and Noble recently. Maybe there’s not much going on because it’s geared toward kids. So this book is really about the hijinks of Mary Adams and her best two nursing school friends. They have an arch-nemesis in Hope, who is mean to everyone, but it turns out Hope’s dad is a raging alcoholic who abandoned his child with distant relatives, so she’s had an unhappy, bitter life and trusts no one. Now that Hope is in nursing school, he’s turned up, apparently just to tell her he’s proud of her, but she won’t have anything to do with him, even when he becomes desperately ill with cirrhosis and needs a porto-caval shunt, and she’s the only person who can sign consent.

On the lighter side, there are boys to go out with, cafeteria meals to grouch about (“Cold spinach and stew again! With lumpy gravy yet!”), exams to study for, patients to care too much about (little Timmy with the bad heart, for starters).  The dorm does not catch on fire, surprisingly (see A Nurse Is Born, Night-Duty Nurse, When Doctors Marry, Nurse Landon’s Challenge), and I would say it’s even more surprising, if this weren’t a book for teens, that Mary does not end up engaged at the end. Instead, on the last page, the boy she seems to like most tells her, “I could get very serious about you,” and she answers, “It’s nice the way it is, Bob. Let’s not—not rush anything.” If Mary Adams is so sanctimonious that she’s the only person who can see everyone’s point of view and therefore can’t dislike even the relentlessly nasty Hope, it’s still a pleasant enough book. You won’t remember it a day later, but maybe its vapid sweetness will linger like the faint smell of cookies that came out of the oven an hour ago.

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