The Nightingale Girls (The Nightingales #1)
By: Donna Douglas
Format/Source: galley courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley
Three very different girls sign up as student nurses in January 1936, while England is still mourning the death of George V. Dora is a tough East Ender, driven by ambition, but also desperate to escape her squalid, overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen is the quiet one, a mystery to her fellow nurses, avoiding fun, gossip and the limelight. In fact she is in the formidable shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life. Can a nursing career free Helen at last? The third of our heroines is naughty, rebellious Millie — aka Lady Camilla — an aristocrat on the run from her conventional upper class life. She is doomed to clash over and over again with terrifying Sister Hyde and to get into scrape after scrape especially where men are concerned. This utterly delightful novel brings a London pre-war hospital vividly to life.
This novel caught my attention as I was browsing NetGalley some time ago because student nurses, I can relate (even if the times are different 😛 ). So yeah, nursing, England, the 1930s…Why not? I was approved a galley copy of this novel courtesy of the publishers for review. This book was released on 16 August 2012.
It took a few chapters to get into the story and get to know the three main characters–Dora, Millie, and Helen–but once I got a sense of who they are, what their backgrounds are like, and how they slowly become friends, the story really takes off. The reader follows these characters as they go through their probationary period and first year with classes, become accustomed to what is required of them, learn to deal with patients and staff, and interact with each other. Each main character comes from a different socioeconomic background, but they are all similar in that they want to excel as nurses. They have their ups and downs with the profession, whether it be failing a practicum or getting in trouble and having to go before the Matron, but I love how their friendship with each other grows that they’re able to support each other by the end of the novel.
Their individual storylines were interesting and I was invested to reading how it all works out for them (to the point that I was up at 1 in the morning reacting out loud to the book, haha). Helen undergoes quite a major character journey from being under her mother’s formidable persona with a very quiet, compliant persona to becoming a woman who makes her own decisions regardless of her mother’s opinion and finding happiness along the way. Millie also goes through a journey of responsibility and finding herself in a wee bit of a love triangle (sort of); I think I find her the most endearing of the three because she just wants to do her own thing despite coming from an aristocratic family. Dora’s story was the darkest, not because of her working class background and her difficulties fitting in, but because of her abusive stepfather (ugh, what a piece of work, that guy). Her story also felt not as completed or tied up as Helen and Millie’s (for the time being, at least), but I suspect of the three characters, she is the foremost main character who will lead readers through future novels.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Nightingale Girls. I identify with many of their concerns and feelings with their chosen profession but I was also wholly invested in their stories and cared for many of the people in their lives. I was surprised that some attention was given to the other girls in their class (given POV chapters when none of the main three characters are not present), but it added to story and the multitude of different characters there are in the profession. I highly recommend this novel for readers of historical fiction and fans of Call the Midwife and other related medical period dramas 🙂