Thursday, November 20, 2008
Polio. Once a dreaded disease not that long ago, polio is now eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. Now that several generations have been saved due to the vaccine, it’s difficult for those not alive during the epidemic to imagine the effect it had on communities.
Blue is an enormously moving and emotional novel set during the polio epidemic. When Ann Fay’s father leaves to fight the Nazis in Europe, he tells her that she’s the “man of the house” and is expected to take care of her little brother and sisters. When her four year old brother is suddenly stricken with polio, Ann Fay feels very guilty that she somehow drove him to the illness.
Polio was (and still is) a random, painful, and frightening illness. The immediate quarantine placed upon a family affected by polio and the dramatic limitations placed upon communities led to fear of anyone associated with the disease. This is an excellent read, but one that is very rich and very sad at times (a child’s funeral is described at heartbreaking length). The painful treatments of polio are brought to life through Ann Fay’s experiences, and the sorrow of Ann Fay’s father over the separation from his family is very much apparent.
Blue takes place in Hickory, NC, site of one of the worst polio outbreaks. Joyce Hostetter provides a thoughtful essay and bibliography at the end of her novel. Although not an easy read (emotionally), Blue is an outstanding portrayal of the polio epidemic.
If you’re interested in more books about polio:
The Battle Against Polio
Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
Healing Warrior: A Story About Sister Elizabeth Kenny (the polio patients are treated using Sr. Elizabeth's methods)
Although not exclusively centered around polio, Judy Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself is another good look at the era and fear of polio.