Welcome to Day #3 of the Of Better Blood Blog Tour!
Fact and Fiction in Of Better Blood by Susan MogerI did a lot of research as I wrote my YA historical novel, Of Better Blood, the story of Rowan Collier, a sixteen-year-old girl who has to overcome physical limitations of polio to save herself and others from eugenicists (believers in eugenics, the false science of bettering the human race) who have labeled her and other teenagers “unfit.” I wanted the fictional story to develop and grow from facts. Here are some examples of using facts to create fiction.
FICTION: In Of Better Blood Rowan is taken to the New England States Exposition to play the part of the “crippled daughter” in “The Unfit Family Show.” To my knowledge, and I searched very hard, no such “show” ever took place. But it could have…and that’s what counts in historical fiction.
FACT: Labeling was a key element of eugenics thinking. “Unfit” was an umbrella term that included “feeble-minded, defective, imbecile, moron”. By law in many states people labeled in this way were sterilized, often without their knowledge, to prevent them from adding more unfit Americans to the population. Euthanasia, sanctioned killing unwanted members of society, never caught on as an option for dealing with the “unfit” in the United States. In the 1930s in Nazi Germany, however, killing the unfit became an integral part of the government program to improve society.
FICTION: In Of Better Blood, a group of eugenicists decide that killing the unfit is more cost-effective than sterilizing them. The events in the novel that describe this plot are wholly imagined. “Detection + Selection + Correction = Perfection” is the motto I created for this group. It refers to detecting an unfit person, selecting him or her for sterilization or death, correcting the perceived threat by sterilization or death, and thus taking a step toward a perfect society of “fit” individuals.
FICTION: Before Rowan had polio at age 11, she loved riding ocean waves (body surfing). Here, in Of Better Blood, she describes trying it again five years later, this time with her friend Dorchy: “Yesterday I was terrified of going into the waves. I would be knocked down, helpless to get up again. But today, as I fight to keep my balance, something happens. Confidence grows with every step. Both of my legs feel strong, ready to support me. When we’re up to our waists, the water holds me up….”
FACT: I tried this several times on a calm day in the ocean in Maine, but each time I stood on one leg, the water knocked me over. So… I ignored that “Fact” and decided that Rowan is strong enough to stand on one leg long enough to catch a wave. Sometimes story just has to triumph over fact!
Stop by Reading Teen Tomorrow for Day #4 of the tour!
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Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics—the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding—has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island…if she can escape them herself.
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