The Light of Luna Park

Written by Addison Armstrong
Review by Sarah Hendess

Armstrong’s dual-timeline debut packs a powerful emotional punch as it explores which lives are valued by society and how much a mother is willing to sacrifice for her child.

Althea Anderson has found her calling as an obstetrics nurse in New York City’s Bellevue Hospital in 1926. Mere months before her graduation from nursing school, however, Althea witnesses the death of a premature baby, and she’s furious with the doctor who refused to send the infant to Dr. Martin Couney on Coney Island. Dr. Couney has been making headlines with his “incubator babies” at Luna Park, funding his life-saving interventions with the ten cents apiece visitors pay to gawk at the infants. When another baby is born prematurely, Althea steals the child and whisks her away to Luna Park, leaving the parents to believe the child died.

In Poughkeepsie in 1950, Stella Wright struggles to provide an education to her special-needs students. When the school principal plays a nasty trick on her, Stella quits and travels to New York City to clear out her recently deceased mother’s apartment. While there, she struggles with guilt over abandoning her beloved students and uncovers a mystery regarding who her mother really was.

Armstrong stays true to her time periods while making observations that ring true today. Both Althea and Stella are disgusted by what is today termed ableism, but they are constrained by society’s narrow view of women. They both also stand at the forefront of new attitudes and technology that will improve—and save—the lives of millions of future children. While the link between the timelines is easy to guess early on, the emotional investment in the two protagonists will keep readers eagerly turning pages. Recommended for all readers, but especially for those who love someone who doesn’t meet society’s definition of “worthy.”