Review: In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

Susanne Dunlap's website here // $10.79 from {amazon}
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (April 12, 2011)
Hardcover: 304 pages
Source: Author
It's 1854 and sixteen-year-old Molly would give anything to change her circumstances as a lowly servant in a posh London house. So when she hears of an opportunity to join the nurses who will be traveling with Florence Nightingale to the Crimea, she jumps at the chance. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions deplorable, and Miss Nightingale a demanding teacher. Before long, the plight of British soldiers becomes more than just a mission of mercy as Molly finds that she's falling in love with both a dashing young doctor and a soldier who has joined the army to be near her. But with the battle raging ever nearer, can Molly keep the two men she cares for from harm? A love story to savor, and a fascinating behind-the-scenes imagining of the woman who became known as "the lady with the lamp." 

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: Susanne Dunlap proves her skill at crafting richly detailed, entrancing historical fiction yet again with her newest release, In the Shadow of the Lamp. This time, she documents the Crimean War, known for introducing live war correspondence, modern warfare, and, the most relevant here, Florence Nightingale and her nurses.* My heart followed a certain idealistic yet dedicated 16-year old nurse, Molly, as she navigated the oceans of love, war, and – of course – the one between London and Turkey.

I’ve read both of Susanne Dunlap’s previous YA novels, The Musician’s Daughter and Anastasia’s Secret, and neither were at all lacking in the research department. In the Shadow of the Lamp is no exception. From just the story, I learned more about Florence Nightingale than I have in any class – and probably more than I’ll ever want to know. But that’s okay, because while the story tells, it does so without being didactic. The subtly in which Susanne Dunlap introduces the numerous little historical facts lent itself to the story’s authenticity and had me completely enveloped in the 1850’s. In fact, it may not be too much of a stretch to say Molly and I could have been interchangeable... almost. And if you want to know even more, there’s still the author’s note awaiting your scholarly mind.

However, though Susanne Dunlap has remained fairly consistent in hitting the historical mark just right, I’ve always felt much less strongly for her characters. So it's with happiness that I say she keeps getting better and better. Molly is a spunky girl that knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there; yes, I’d say boarding a ship to war oceans away from home constitutes courage and determination. With so much turmoil around and within her, I greatly admired Molly’s strength and absolute refusal to lose sight of the ultimate goal of aiding others. The world needs more Molly’s.

But does the world need more love triangles? Love triangles are delicate things, and I could feel the anguish in the one between Molly, Will, and Dr. Maclean. But as sadistic as it may sound, I wanted more anguish. I got a general feel of both love interests, as in I can name a couple characteristics for each, but I don’t think I ever got past that barrier of appearances versus reality. Perhaps the problem lay in plot, in that space and duty keeps Molly from seeing much of either one, or in the intensity of each meeting (or lack thereof). Regardless, I just wanted more. I still cared about each of the characters and their happiness, but it seemed like Molly fell in love without truly knowing the person.

Yet when I closed the book, a gooey smile was plastered on my face. And I can attribute that to the page-or-so epilogue at the end that perfectly clinched the story for me:
“Most of all, he taught me how love could bind two people across oceans and through walls, living or dead, forever.”

-- page 287
(Who is Molly talking about? That’s for me to know, and you to find out. ;))

Romance: PG, if you're one to cover a minor's eyes during chaste kisses.

Cover: It's fitting enough, but nothing really unique to the story Very beautiful colors though, and I can definitely imagine this looking nice next to my copy of Anastasia's Secret, since they follow the same chest-up shot with a pretty background. :)

Liked: Historical background, spunky heroine
Disliked: Love triangle/romance sub-plot

Bottom Line: Susanne Dunlap is one of my favorite YA historical fiction writers and In the Shadow of the Lamp reaffirms why. Molly’s bittersweet story merges with a rich background to form an extremely enjoyable and informative historical read that I highly recommend to all YA historical fiction lovers. In the Shadow of the Lamp is in many ways an exploration, and I eagerly await Susanne Dunlap’s next venture/adventure – because I know it’ll be both.

*Sorry, I’m taking AP European History soon and couldn’t resist. I felt proud recognizing the Light Brigade and remembering Lord Tennyson’s poem, haha.