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Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

What I Thought: This book is a ghastly delight, filled with phantasmagorical imagery supported by a feminist structure.

The short, quick chapters make Anatomy easy to read. The subject is somewhat gory but in a way that is more likely to entertain than disgust the reader.

Author Dana Schwartz has a penchant for word choice that borders on the lyrical. For example, about Hazel: “From the time she was able to write her own name, she had wanted to study the body, to learn the rules that governed it, to understand how to master it: this strange vessel that contained our souls.”

Who: Teenager Hazel Sinnett, a Scottish noblewoman, longs to become a surgeon.

What: Hazel enrolls in a rigorous medical training program, armed with the knowledge from her father’s well-stocked library. When her disguise fails to conceal her true identity –that of a woman—she makes a deal with the doctor in charge of the program. If she can pass the exam at the culmination of the training, he will help her get credentialed as a surgeon.

When: Early 1800s.

Where: Edinburgh, Scotland.

How: The book-learning, rote memorization, is easy for Hazel. But when it comes to the hands-on aspects of technique, Hazel is at a disadvantage. That is, until she meets Jack Currer, a “resurrection man” and part of the underground economy in Edinburgh. Doctors need bodies to study, and Jack will steal those bodies from graveyards, for a price. As Hazel and Jack begin working together, Hazel investigates the disappearance of some of Jack’s friends from the streets of the Old Town, and the mysterious injuries Jack has seen on his recent resurrections.

More thoughts on Anatomy:

In Hazel Sinnett, Schwartz has created a masterful narrator to keep readers engaged.

Schwartz describes the time period, which is quite foreign to young people growing up today, in which a teenage woman of noble blood must have an escort to take her safely around outside of her household. Our protagonist Hazel ventures out on her own after her mother and surviving brother leave home out of fear of the returning Roman Fever, and she vows to sit for her exams before Christmas, when she will be expected to reunite with them prior to the socialization season.

Our heroine is clever, witty, and motivated. She cares not for social niceties and blossoms before the reader’s eyes as she learns to look out from her carriage and see the world that actually exists, not just the rooms that she used to inhabit. While this is a Young Adult book, I found it handled real life themes more appropriately than many books that portend to be for grownups actually do.

Hazel finds she is forced to choose between the career she thinks picked her and the life her mother says she is lucky to have –that of a Viscountess, with a household to manage and a husband to please.

Hazel’s parents are key to the narrative, both in their noble status and in their absentia. If Hazel’s father wasn’t a man to whom books and knowledge were of utmost importance, Hazel likely wouldn’t have grown up to be so entranced with the written word. If her mother hadn’t spent years mourning her deceased eldest son, perhaps she would have treated Hazel differently. As it is, however, Hazel is left to fend for herself, and she greatly prefers studying the body’s cardiovascular system to deciding which color gown to wear to the next costume party at which her attendance is expected.

All in all, I adored this book, found it to be an enjoyable read, and went back to read the last few sections a second time as they were filled with hidden gems. Highly recommend, five stars.


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