My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
Published: 13 May 2010 by Viking
Pages: 364 (hardcover)
Genre/s: Historical Fiction
Source: Own library
In this stunning first novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, headstrong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine-and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak- Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens-two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary's courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering-and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.
Ah, I love a bit of historical fiction, but I honestly cannot remember having read a book set during the American Civil War. Coupled with the fact that Mary wanted to buck the trend and become a doctor, I was so intrigued about this book.
Right from the first chapter, I had to admire Mary. Wanting to apprentice to a local surgeon, she finds herself instead delivering a baby and suitably impressing the surgeon with her skills and knowledge. Despite Mary's disappointment when he turns down her request, she behaves professionally and simply continues trying to find a way into the medical profession.
As the story progresses, it becomes obvious just how tough Mary is, both physically and emotionally, particularly as events progress and she is confronted with some truly heart-wrenching and disappointing situations. Rather than just giving up however, she uses those events to drive herself forward towards her goal - although at times it almost becomes self-destructive behaviour.
However, there is a love triangle. It's not necessarily a terrible thing in this book, but it did feel a little unnecessary to me, as well as being kind of obvious how it's going to end up. Not that it was particularly the wrong ending, but it almost felt like Oliveira threw it in to appeal to readers that weren't really so much into the strong heroine and sense of history. I honestly would have enjoyed the story just as much without the triangle, or even perhaps without a romance at all.
My Name is Mary Sutter definitely held my attention, and I came out of it feeling like I had learnt a lot about the way that medicine was practiced during that time period, and the changes that came about due to the American Civil War. As a historical fiction, I found this a satisfying read with a strong heroine, but the romance really didn't do it for me.