It's the Great Depression in rural West Virginia. Men are out of work and women struggle to feed hungry children. Nurse Becky Meyers moves to Hope River, WV along with her former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, who is in a catatonic state apparently caused by the sudden death of his wife. Not only does Dr. Blum need assistance with just the basics of daily living, but the local midwife, Patience Murphy, who is her good friend, needs assistance with delivering babies, a task that Nurse Meyers finds terrifying--hence the "reluctant" part of the title. Nurse Meyers also obtains a part time job as the nurse at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and slowly starts to cope with the challenges of rural survival. Difficult pregnancies, mining accidents, and a raging forest fire keep the story moving along at a brisk pace. As Dr. Blum's condition starts to gradually improve, we start to get a glimpse into the tragedy that led him to his catatonic state and the complicated relationship between him and Becky Meyers is brought to the forefront of the story. This is a moving story about the power of optimism and love to triumph over circumstances. The history is well researched giving an accurate portrayal of race relations, mistrust of government programs, the state of medicine at the time, and the rejection of outsiders. And the writing is solid and authentic with good characterization. An overall good read.
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