At a recent author event, I was promoting the upcoming visit by Carrie Brown, who will be our final AViD author this year. She will speak at Sheslow Auditorium on Friday, October 23 at 7:00 PM. We selected her because her book, The Rope Walk, was chosen this year as the All Iowa Reads book. I had read that book many months ago and found it delightful--a wonderful story of childhood friendship and innocence, darkened by the story of a neighbor they befriend who is dying of AIDS.
When I mentioned the book to a woman who comes to many of our programs, she asked, "Oh but have you read, The Hatbox Baby?" She continued, "it's all about premature babies that they exhibited at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair!" So, indeed, I had to read it.
She was right, that is the core of the story, but Brown manages to weave several other amazing characters into this story based on history. The doctor, who is able to keep many of the babies alive using the money he gets from fair-goers. The fan dancer who is the only one to draw more gawkers. Her dwarf-like brother, a preemie, himself. The nurse, who loves the babies that she knows she will never have. And many other fascinating characters including the hatbox baby and his parents.
At first glance, the reader is repulsed to think that we would ever allow tiny, living humans to be put into such a freak show. And the ending leaves more questions than answers. But a very worthwile read.