NOTE: I received early access to this book in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you netgalley and Black Rose Writing. Publication: August 25, 2022.
Awarded four stars stars on Goodreads but, that feels like a bit of a gift; 3.5 feels more on target. THE UNLOCKED PATH is a debut novel from Janis Robinson Daly, with a lot of promise and a decent storyline …but also with a few beginner mistakes. (Ones I would have expected a good editor to have helped point out.)
As the author explains in her Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Daly draws from her own family’s history and extensive research to create this novel.
On the plus side, this is the story about a group of determined women who become some of the first female doctors (in the early 1900s) in the United States. The bonds of friendship and sisterhood, formed during their studies, sustain each one throughout their lives.
Eliza Edwards, whose mother is hoping her debut in Philadelphia society will result in a promising marriage, is the main protagonist. Eliza, not surprisingly, must overcome not just family expectations but many more obstacles to earn her credentials. And even then, still faces years of doubts from male colleagues and prospective patients.
As years pass, it’s clear that Eliza and her fellow students make considerable personal sacrifices but great contributions as well, as they navigate some of the most dramatic events of this era — urban poverty, widespread misogyny, women’s suffrage, religious and legal restrictions on abortion and contraceptives, sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Flu Epidemic of 1918, and more. And all the time, they are continually weighing professional aspirations against the deeply ingrained societal expectations for women of this period.
On the minus side, there’s quite an overuse of similes and metaphors in some heavy-handed descriptions. And a few seemed awkward to me (example: “Silence engulfed the room, frozen stiff as a blanket on a winter clothesline.“), A few descriptions to me did little more than slow the pace of the book. Fortunately, this issue is particularly true in the beginning of the novel and became much less an issue as the plot unfolded. There are also a few places where it feels like extraneous but well-researched information about the time period is forced into the story, even when it has little to do with advancing the plot.
This is subject matter that interests me. So I kept reading. And I’m glad I finished the book. I learned a lot about the lives of ambitious women in the early 20th century and about the limited opportunities for women to study medicine. It’s also an interesting picture of the country’s healthcare system and the differing level of care available, depending on social class. Overall, good story. Hoping Daly’s next book is even stronger.
More about the author, Janis Robinson Daly.