First Lines: "Ithaca, New York. May 1885. Nora Shipley's ears buzzed as though a thousand bees were trapped inside her head. Her back stiffened against the dining chair."
Summary: Nora Shipley will soon be receiving her bachelor of entomology from Cornell University. She will be graduating at the top of her class along with Owen Epps. There is really no other student that can compete with them. Nora is not sure what she will do after graduation, but she knows that it will somehow involve saving her father's scientific journal. Her father died six years ago. Shortly afterward her mother married Lucius who took over the journal. However, he has begun accepting articles from non-scientific people. He is allowing anyone willing to pay the price to write an article. This angers Nora. Her father would never have allowed this to happen. So, her plan is to convince Lucius to let her run the journal so that she can save it from demise.
However, when Professor Comstock, a friend and colleague of her father's, offers her a position studying insects in India, she is torn. She realizes this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. She also realizes that it would give her a good chance at getting a scholarship to extend her studies. However, she fears what will happen to the journal while she is gone. She feels it is her duty to save the journal, that by doing so she would have made her father proud. She also feels a duty to her mother. She has been ill and Nora feels her mother needs her. She has made up her mind. She will let someone else have the opportunity to study in India. But, when a tragedy occurs, Nora decides to take the internship after all.
My thoughts: A female entomologist studying insects in India is what enticed me to pick up this book. I expected to follow the protagonist on her studies as well as get a taste of life in India. I was not disappointed. There was a lot to like about this novel.
Kimberly Duffy says in the author's note, "I've loved India for decades. I had the opportunity to live there after high school, as well as visit more recently with a nonprofit I volunteer with." This definitely came through in her writing. India was vibrant and exotic through her eyes. Her descriptions of the markets, as well as the countryside made me feel like I was there.
There was plenty of nature study as well. Both in New York and India. I appreciated how the author used the Latin names for the insects studied, but also gave the common name. This felt very realistic. Her descriptions of the insects, as well as Nora and Owen's love for the study, made them come to life.
The plot is very complex. There are many layers. There is the historical aspect in which women didn't study insects or go to college. Nora feels this on many fronts. There is her friendship with Owen which may be growing into something more. There is Nora's relationship with her stepfather which is not good. There is her sense of duty and love for her mother. And there are the beliefs and traditions of a culture different than her own. All of this, along with a theme of choosing what is right even when it means you will suffer for it, makes for a multi-layered story.
The inclusion of Professor Comstock and his wife Anna, was a fun surprise. As a homeschooling mom using the Charlotte Mason method with my children, I was familiar with Anna Comstock and her Handbook of Nature Study. I owned a copy and used it when doing nature study with my children. I found it interesting to learn a little more about her.
I do need to mention that I had mixed feelings about Nora. For the first third of the book, I really didn't like her very much. She had strong opinions and took many opportunities to voice those opinions. I don't disagree with her opinions, I just really disliked the way she was constantly expressing them and causing discord. However, I kept reading hoping that the author was doing this with a purpose. That eventually Nora would see the error of her ways and try to change. She did eventually see how her words were always getting her in trouble, but change came very slowly. I was often frustrated with her brashness and stubbornness. However, I am glad I didn't stop reading because of this. I would have missed a good book if I had.
If you enjoy historical fiction, an exotic setting and a multi-layered plot, I recommend this book.