One of the best books I read this year. OK, the truth is I read this two months ago and loved it so much that I just didn’t want to write about it yet. And now it’s two months later and what do I have to say?? Hmmm….
Well the gist of the story is just the most fascinating premise ever, made even more fascinating when your read the author’s notes and see that it is based on something that really went on. At a small college with a course in home economics a house is set up for women to practice raising babies. They are trained in all the newest most scientific methods. The house has a “practice baby” they get from an orphanage and for almost two years the baby is raised by 7 college girls and the woman in charge of it all- Martha Gaines. That right there would be enough of a fascinating story for me. First of all, it just seems horrible that these babies are raised by a rotation of women (the women live in the house a week at a time). And then there’s all the details of things like “don’t pick up a crying baby or you’ll spoil it” which are, frankly, horrifying. The women are trained to raise babies, but not love or nurture them (although they do play with him, give him Christmas presents, and make him a baby book.)
So what happens to these babies? Well, usually they are given back to the orphanage and adopted, but there is something irresistible about Henry and Martha Gaines is determined to keep him. So Henry lives on under Martha’s care while other babies come and go. Imagine what it’s like a four year old to have had a baby sister for the past two years and then the baby gets taken away?! Good grief, it seemed like pretty much everything you read in the first half of the book left you thinking “that’s going to F^&* up that kid”. And, happily for the reader, the second half of the book shows you exactly what kind of person Henry grows up to be like.
Because of the time period this is set in as Henry begins his adult life it’s a bit what I call “Forrest Gumpy” in that it hits on all these iconic 60s things. But that’s not bad. And I loved reading about his time working in the budding animation studios of Walt Disney.
This book had so many angles to think about-relationships, child rearing, family secrets, and more. But I think ultimately it is a story about how we become who we are. (with a heaping dose of fascinating things to make you say “what was wrong with people back then?! Who thought that was a good idea?!”)