Intrigued by the premise and the cover design, I picked up Queen of Hearts from a bookstore recently. This is the first book by award-winning Canadian author Martha Brooks that Kate and I have read. The novel is an honest and touching account of life in a sanatorium as seen through the eyes of a French-Canadian teenage girl during the World War II years.
Marie-Claire and her two younger siblings are put into a sanatorium in southern Manitoba after contracting tuberculosis from their uncle, who had succumbed to the illness. Marie Claire must deal with worry and fear for her sister and brother, despair about her own situation, and anger with her parents’ inability to cope with the tragic situation.
In the sanatorium, Marie Claire’s constant companion is Signy, a needy girl that she befriends with great difficulty. In the development of this relationship, Brooks examines the obligations, pains and awkwardness of friendship as well as the joys. In an environment where people are slowing dying, friendship necessarily encompasses a range of emotions, including not so pleasant ones like pity, revulsion and guilt. Yet, in this bleak environment, there is also happiness, love, and even hope for a future life outside this tiny enclosed world.