Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Rose, Caroline Starr. Miraculous
July 26th 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cora lives in the town of Oakdale, Ohio in the late 1800s. It's a small, close knit town with its share of strange traditions and secrets. When Dr. Kingsbury and his young assistant Jack arrive in town to hawk their patent medicine during October of a year of terrible drought, things get interesting. Another boy who worked with the doctor, Isaac, had a falling out with his employer and left suddenly. This leaves a lot of responsibility that falls on Jack. Jack, who is from Kentucky, is working with the doctor because his "Miraculous Tonic" saved his baby sister Lucy from dying after a fever and illness. He sends his wages home, but misses his family and is starting to have suspicions about Dr. Kingsbury. His methods of increasing business start to seem shady the more Jack gets involved in mustering crowds and addressing them with the benefits of this miracle drug. There are many in town who seek him out, especially after a demonstration "cures" a local man of his deafness. Mr. Ogburn, the school teacher, has a bad tremor. Miss Moore, the milliner, has debilitating headaches, but also thinks she recognizes the brash and singular doctor from her home in Indiana. Cora herself is dealing with her grandmother's failing memory. We also see flashback from Silas, who worked on a farm that had a horrible when he was a boy and who has come back to buy the farm and reconnect with his past. When Jack finds out some secrets about Dr. Kingsbury and sees him play with the emotions of the townspeople, promising that the tonic will end the drought in order to boost sales, he realizes that he must speak up against the fraudulent doctor, even if this puts him in danger. Will he be able to alert Oakdale before tragedy occurs?
Strengths: Aside from Fowler's Snakes and Stones (Sky Pony Press 2016), I can't think of another book that addresses patent medicine sales, or traveling salesmen at all. These would have been a large part of rural communities from the 1880s well into the 1940s. My mother spoke nostalgically about "the dish man" who would visit their farm, sharpening knives and selling a variety of kitchen equipment. Oakdale is a fairly typical community, and we see a wide selection of residents and how they interact. There is a lot of good description of what the Miraculous tonic is, how it is made, and how Dr. Kingsbury markets it to people; it clears up everything from skin blemishes to crippled legs, and much of its power comes from believing it will work. The author's informative note at the back would be good for young readers unfamiliar with the concept of patent medicine or of daily life in the late 1800s to read first. One thing I particularly thought was interesting was how slowly news moved at the time; Miss Moore has to write a letter to her mother asking about Dr. Kingsbury, and it's only because some recent news about a case concerning him has come to light again that her mother has some information for her! A very interesting and well done book about an underrepresented facet of US history. 
Weaknesses: I've been hanging out with blood thirsty tweens too much. This felt like it could have taken a really dark turn, and that Dr. Kingsbury could have had a trail of dead teen boys who crossed him throughout the midwest. This didn't happen in any kind of gruesome way; I was just as glad, but my readers would have been more likely to pick this up if it had!
What I really think: This was a great historical novel in the vein of Parry's Last of the Name, Hilmo's Cinnamon Moonor MacColl's Rory's Promise. Those seem a bit random; I think Jack, and the fact that he left his family at such a young age and had to work because of economic hardship is the thread that these stories together. 

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