"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

21 February 2014

2014 Book Review #9: One Glorious Ambition

I found this book at our town library and it had been quite some time since I read a  book by this author.  I had read her Kinship and Courage Series a few years back and really enjoyed those novels.  I like historical fiction so took this out and read it this past week.  It was pretty good!


Dorothea Dix was born to an emotionally unavailable mother and an abusive father.  She spends her days trying to protect her younger brother Charles and her baby brother Joseph.  When she turns 14 years old, she is separated from them by her paternal grandmother and sent to live with relatives so that she can be raised like a proper Boston girl.  But Dorothea discovers that she really doesn't possess the desire or skills for the social expectations that are put on young female teens at that time in New England culture.  (the book opens in 1814).  Dorothea wants to accomplish something in her life other than snagging a mate.

She finds that she has a gift for teaching children and for writing.  Many of her students become a type of family to her, as she is very lonely at her aunt and uncle's.  But she soon becomes ill for a lengthy time and is sent away from her aunt's to live in Boston.  An unexpected visit to a jail that houses the mentally ill begins a passion in her heart-----a passion for the mentally ill or other handicapped people.  This sets her on the journey of traveling to various prisons  pleading with legislators for change.  She feels that the mentally ill....the people who are not actual criminals, should have their own housing or asylums.  She begins to campaign with presidents and lawmakers for change, always fighting for the relief of suffering people and believing that Scripture calls them "the least of these".


I liked the story as of course I had heard of Dorothea Dix.  Being in the special education field, her name has come up in much research I've done and of course being from the Boston area where my husband's family is from, we have heard her name or seen memorials to her. So I wanted to learn a little more about her other than the little knowledge I had which was that she made it possible for the first public mental hospital to be founded (in Pennyslvania).

The book had many facts about Dorothea and her life. I enjoyed reading about this time period as I have always loved reading books set in the mid-19th century.  The author did a great job in combining historical facts with a bit of fiction.  She really portrayed Dorothea as an historical figure who recognized the suffering of others that most people at that time turned away from.  

One thing I did NOT like that was that the author used the term "mongoloid" to describe a person with Down Syndrome.  I do realize this was the word used at that time in history, but I was wishing she had used the proper medical term and maybe explained that the general population at that time used the more offensive term.  She could have explained that Down Syndrome was discovered some years later in the 1860s.  But..this was just a small annoyance and definitely didn't detract from the novel.  I also wish that some of the reviews I read of the book used the word mentally handicapped vs retarded or mentally ill vs insane. (sigh.....it appears that the general population today is still in need of knowledge in regards to our vocabulary!)

I suspect that even though the author didn't fully tell us what Dorothea's mother's problem was, I'm guessing it was either postpartum depression or manic depression of which very little was known at that time in history in our country.

I did a little research of my own about Dorothea and discovered that she really did live with the Rathbones for a time and she really did travel to Scotland to see their "madhouses". She did set about reform there and in Nova Scotia.

The story moved very quickly in the beginning and the middle and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It did get bogged down for me towards the end when Dorothea started traveling to the southern states and meeting with all kinds of legislators.  I felt like it was time to wrap up this story.

I love how the author pointed out in her writing that Dorothea's own suffering (loss, loneliness, the feeling of being unloved and unwanted, broken friendships, longing to do God's will) was relieved by her outreach to others.

And isn't that really what happens??

When we are hurting, in any way, it does help to reach out to others who are hurting.

The author puts a couple of quotes in the front of chapter 1. One really sums up Dorothea's life:

"Give me one glorious ambition for my lifeto know and follow hard after You."
~Mark Altrogge from "One Pure and Holy Passions"~

And the Scripture"

"As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me."  ~Matthew 25:40~ 
In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 14 and older.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 9.


Joyful Reader said...

Sounds like a great read! WIll have to look up this author some time!

Melanie Lopata said...

Oooooooooh I want to read this!! Just finished another Karen White book so I will put this on my list!!