One might be forgiven if, after seeing the book’s cover, they think Being Mary Ro (2018, Flanker Press) is another stereotypical Victorian-era romance novel. In some ways it is, but Being Mary Ro is more historical fiction than it is romance, similar to Genevieve Graham’s Promises to Keep. Like that book, it is based on a historical incident and broadened to include fictional characters and other historical references.Here, the basis of Being Mary Ro is a diphtheria outbreak that is unwittingly spread when a stricken person is rescued from a foundering ship off the shore of John’s Pond, Newfoundland. Mary Ro’s mother Dot is a nurse, and after correctly diagnosing the patient, attempts to effect a quarantine but ends up forfeiting her life, her husband’s and others with the eventuality that Mary Ro (Mary Rourke) is orphaned (she has a brother and two older sisters who have already left home). To complicate matters, a few years later she is jilted by Peter Nolan, who promised to marry her. So, by the beginning of the story, Mary Ro, twenty-eight years old, lives alone in the house she inherited from her parents and has withdrawn into herself believing that she has somehow failed, not only in love but also in her efforts to have saved more of the townspeople from the epidemic.
It hurt terribly at first, and people in town avoided her gaze for awhile when rumours spread of his return with his betrothed. In a small town, rumours were easy. It was the pity she saw in their faces that was hard.
Then, another ship appears on the horizon, smoke billowing from it and the injured are brought ashore for medical aid, stirring up flashbacks for Mary to the diphtheria tragedy that haunts her still. Added to that is a severely injured passenger (Danol Cooper) that she finds unconscious in one of her outbuildings. Against her better judgement, she secretly brings him into the house and gives him first aid. This event also stirs up the medical training that she inherited by assisting her late mother, and she rather finds she enjoys it.
“How do you know what to do Mary?” Meg asked.
“I don’t know. It comes natural to me. Mom said I had a knack for healing. I was always around her when she was tending to people. I wanted to know everything. She taught me so many things. Da brought me books on medicine and remedies, and I was interested enough to keep it in my head. I like it.”
The drama and excitement of this mysterious stranger and the fact that there was a murderer aboard the ship turns Mary’s life around, and when Peter once again shows up in John’s Pond, her emotions are given a reawakening as well. Now there are two men in Mary’s life and a murderer on the loose. Then two young girls go missing and the quiet little outport town is suddenly terrorized.
At Goodreads, I rated Being Mary Ro four stars out of five, largely due to fact that I felt this book could have ended sooner (around chapters 12 and 13). There’s enough material for a good sequel, since the sorting out of the love triangle of Danol, Mary and Peter could have been left for another book, or simply left in the reader’s mind as Mary leaves tiny John’s Pond for the bustling city of Boston. For as soon as Mary Ro lands in Boston, the pace of the book picks up and things appear to fall into place a little too hastily (not to mention easily) for Mary. So for those that like everything wrapped up by the final page, this is the story for you!
All in all, I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying Being Mary Ro. The material is suitable for mature young readers, contains small sketches (by Melissa Ashley Cromarty) and is an excellent first novel for Ms. Linehan Young.
Being Mary Ro by Ida Linehan Young
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