The Tenement Nurse
by Kate Gemma
Genre: Historical Fiction
Print Length: 280 pages
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
An enthralling historical novel set in NYC during the roaring 20s
Millie is not going to get married. She is going to devote herself to her chaotic job as a nurse in a tenement building made up mostly of immigrants. She is going to help them meet basic needs and improve their health as a sort of public servant, and she is going to keep her haunting memories behind her.
But things take a turn when one of her pregnant patients dies at the hands of her alcoholic husband. And Millie is capable of more. While navigating a complex rekindled relationship and coping with the reality of her brother’s death, Millie creates her own idea of justice. It’s up to her to decide what a woman should and should not do.
We learn pretty early on that Millie has been around death before. Having experienced some of the horrors of war in France a few years earlier and knowing what taking this man’s life would mean for other people, she can make peace with the idea of doing it. But she has no idea how closely crime and violence would follow her after that.
Newfound relationships with a few “bad men” take her on a journey through a darker side of New York. Lucky for us, she ends up being up to the task. Through flashbacks of her time in the war, we learn how she keeps her wits about her in trying times.
In case you couldn’t tell: I think this book is fantastic. I was constantly engaged, constantly questioning what was going to happen next. Millie finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations, and her circumstances are always changing. I was pulled along by the freshness of each succeeding chapter. She always has the option to disappear into the life of a housewife, and each avenue we take along the way ends up being as entertaining as the last. There’s not one paragraph I wanted to skip.
Gemma thrives in depicting womanhood. Millie is a standout protagonist, you already know this, but so are the secondary female characters. I would have gladly pivoted into their background whenever Gemma wanted to take me there. I’d read anything she wrote.
Millie’s best friend Betty is an independent woman who just happens to be dating a married man. Her mother is a grieving but hopeful woman who is coping with the death of her son in the war. A friend we meet later in the book, Etta, is a single woman who exudes confidence in every shape of the word. Each is in some way trying to hook an uncatchable man, while holding on to the pieces of themselves that make them unique. I cared about all of them.
Honestly, I could go on and on about The Tenement Nurse. This is undeniably one of the best books I’ve read this year. The time period, the setting, the characters, the storylines: they’re all sure to enrapture you.
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