Set in Canada during WWII, Queen of Hearts is the story of fourteen-year-old Marie-Claire whose hobo uncle comes to stay with her family, having hit harder-than-usual times. When it’s discovered that the uncle has tuberculosis, he must remain in the house, exposing them all, until there is room in the nearby sanatorium. And so begins the family’s battle with this contagious and deadly disease.
When it’s determined that Marie-Claire, her younger sister, and brother, have been infected, they are brought to the sanatorium where her uncle recently died, separated from each other and from their parents. Patients in the sanatorium are well cared for but some stay ten years or more “chasing the cure” and others don’t survive at all.
Marie-Claire’s roommate, Signy Jonasson, has already been at the sanatorium for some time. Her parents send extravagant gifts but rarely visit. Signy is agonizingly alone and eager to make friends, but Marie-Claire is angry over being in this place and doesn’t want to make friends with anyone. Still, Signy tries:
“I think it’s fate that I found you and you found me. I just know we’re going to be wonderful friends!”
I think about this for a minute. I can feel her staring at my back, waiting.
What on earth would make her say such a crackpot thing—to me, a perfect stranger? I don’t want to be friends. I want to sleep and never have to wake up to this nightmare.”
Patients of all ages are set out on the balcony in the frigid weather as part of their treatment and Marie-Claire endures having one lung collapsed in order to rest it. Martha Brooks, author of award-winning Mistik Lake was raised near the sanatorium in this story and suffered a collapsed lung during the writing of this book.
Queen of Hearts is a character-driven, in-depth glimpse into this tragic time in history. It is a story of friendship, sacrifice, first love, and the kind of community that can form from a common struggle.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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