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Book Review of Healer

Author: Carol Cassella
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Book Type: Paperback
reviewed on + 175 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1

4.0 out of 5 stars - What's left when you've lost it all?

This second novel by medical doctor Carol Cassella explores the answer to the question -- what is left when you've lost all your material possessions, your home, your reputation, and your previous world of friends and social interaction? The answer lies, for these characters, in the rustic, rural former vacation home they never renovated, in a small town in Hallum, Washington. What remains is simple: hard work and love.

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to teen-aged Jory (the only child she can have, born prematurely) when her husband Addison, a wildly successful biochemist who had made them rich by discovering a test to diagnose ovarian cancer early, gambles their entire financial portfolio on a new anti-cancer drug he's trying to bring to market. Almost ready for FDA approval, lab data from clinical trials is suspicious, and the fledgling research venture folds along with Addison's integrity. Gone is all the money they had received from Addison's former triumph, and they have to sell their house and possessions and relocate to Hallum while Addison goes begging at medical conventions for investors in the project he can't give up.

Meanwhile, Claire -- who was almost done with residency when Jory arrived early -- needs a job to feed herself and her daughter. Because she's not board certified, she takes the only job she's offered -- in a free clinic for migrant workers run by an aging physician, Dr. Dan Zalaya. The position pays little, and Claire is nervous and anxious about actually working as a doctor again and has also a little difficulty with translating the patients' complaints from Spanish since she doesn't speak the language. She is forced to be a single parent to Jory and works long hours in the barely funded clinic. This was the best part of the novel for me, watching Claire develop her confidence in the art of practicing medicine, being the "healer" as doctora to these migrant workers. I loved the interactions between her and the patients, and between her and the staff at the clinic. It painted a bleak picture of the life of the illegal immigrants and it felt to me that Claire was getting back some of her self esteem.

A constant irritant in the book was the teenage daughter Jory, whom I could not stand. I realize that many teenagers are self absorbed and narcissistic, but the amount of patience that Claire had to use to deal with her defied my tolerance level. I just couldn't stand Jory's character and in my view she never redeemed herself or grew up any in the book. Addison was shallow and also selfish -- forging ahead with his dream when he should have taken a bench lab job to provide for his family. I saw him, who had basically stolen away the family fortune without ever discussing it with his wife, as a complete failure as husband and father. I also couldn't understand where the money to buy the food and pay the other bills was coming from as they were buying jewelry and food and paying utilities on only Claire's meager salary. Despite these discordant notes, the narrative moved along hopefully as the family tiptoes around each other trying to work their way back to being a unit and the loving trio they once had been.

Then, for some reason, the last part of the book attempts to set up a mystery using a Nicaraguan refugee with a lost daughter. This part of the novel fell flat and seemed tacked on, but other than that - the story moves to a conclusion that is somewhat satisfying. There is redemption of a sort, and the restoration of trust -- though hard won -- and above all, there is love.

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