The Light of Luna Park

Putnam. Aug. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780593328040. pap. $17. F
DEBUT In Armstrong’s 1926-set debut, premature infants are sideshow attractions, on view for 10 cents. Dr. Couney’s incubators at Coney Island save the lives of two-pound babies, but most local doctors and hospitals regard his setup as a freak show and refuse to collaborate. Althea Anderson, a nurse finishing her training at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, struggles with the fact that premature infants are dying at her hospital when they could be saved. Faced with the premature daughter of a troubled couple, and direct orders from both the doctor and the baby’s father to follow God’s plan, Althea strikes out on a life-changing course. In 1950, we meet Stella Wright, a teacher fighting for the basic rights of students with disabilities. Her world has been upended by her mother’s death, and she searches for answers to questions she never realized she had.
VERDICT This moving debut showcases the power of storytelling behind historical fiction. Armstrong highlights the novelty, frustration, and strength of rebellious action behind a medical marvel we take for granted today. For fans of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls and Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars.
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