Bright Morning Stars

By Mary Rose O’Reilley. Brighthorse Books, 2018. 286 pages. $16.95/paperback.

One of my favorite things is to discover why a book has its particular title. “Bright Morning Stars” is the name of a traditional Appalachian spiritual. (I looked that up on Wikipedia and then listened to a beautiful version by The Wailin’ Jennys.) There’s a character who sings it several times in the book, so that part wasn’t hard to figure out. But there’s much more about this book to enjoy!

First and foremost, it’s not predictable. There’s a doctor who marries a nurse, so okay, but there are illnesses that don’t get cured and lives that don’t get saved, and loves that get requited only sort of.

Second, it’s not always obvious who is the bad guy or girl. Although most of the action takes place in an institution for the mentally ill a long time ago, there are moments when the doctors and nurses are no more sane than some of the inmates. (And no, there’s no mad doctor doing crazy experiments and no inmate revolt.) There are moments of grief and remorse, and many moments of love and human connection. To avoid spoiling it, I’ll just say that the Quaker author takes some sad truths and some human strengths, and fashions them into a totally believable story of mistakes made, repairs offered, and lots of paying it forward.

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