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The War Nurse: Book summary and reviews of The War Nurse by Tracey Enerson Wood

The War Nurse

A Novel

by Tracey Enerson Wood

The War Nurse by Tracey Enerson Wood X
The War Nurse by Tracey Enerson Wood
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  • Published Jul 2021
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

Another gripping historical fiction masterpiece from international bestselling author Tracey Enerson Wood.

She asked dozens of young women to lay their lives on the line during the Great War. Can she protect them?

Superintendent of Nurses Julia Stimson must recruit sixty-five nurses to relieve the battle-worn British, months before American troops are ready to be deployed. She knows that the young nurses serving near the front lines will face a challenging situation, but nothing could have prepared her for the chaos that awaits when they arrive at British Base Hospital 12 in Rouen, France. The primitive conditions, a convoluted, ineffective system, and horrific battle wounds are enough to discourage the most hardened nurses, and Julia can do nothing but lead by example―even as the military doctors undermine her authority and make her question her very place in the hospital tent.

When trainloads of soldiers stricken by a mysterious respiratory illness arrive one after the other, overwhelming the hospital's limited resources, and threatening the health of her staff, Julia faces an unthinkable choice―to step outside the bounds of her profession and risk the career she has fought so hard for, or to watch the people she cares for most die in her arms. Based on a true story, The War Nurse is a sweeping historical novel by international bestselling author Tracey Enerson Wood that takes readers on an unforgettable journey through WWI France.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. How much did you know about nursing (particularly World War I–era nursing) before reading this book? What was the most surprising thing you learned?
  2. If you were told that your entire workplace was uprooting to support a war effort, what would your first reaction be? Did Julia have a real choice when it came to shipping out?
  3. Both Julia and the doctors she assists can be territorial about their authority. How does this affect their working dynamics? Are there any consequences for the patients the team treats?
  4. Julia and Dr. Murphy discuss the ethical and procedural challenges of authorizing nurses to perform lifesaving procedures on their own. Compare the benefits and drawbacks of strictly following protocol to the ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The War Nurse:

Both Julia and the doctors she assists can be territorial about their authority. How does this affect their working dynamics? Are there any consequences for the patients the team treats?
Yes, both are territorial. However Julia wants to open up the lines between the Drs and the nurses and let nurses take on more responsibilities for patient care - sans Drs orders. This is intimidating for the Drs. Nurses are ONLY women - per their ... - taking.mytime

Compare the benefits and drawbacks of strictly following protocol to the consequences of a nurse performing whatever procedures she feels are best.
Simple - the life of a patient! Waiting for a Dr could kill the patient when the nurse was able to administer the treatment. The drawback was loss of life - but doing nothing would also cause that loss of life - so being treated by a nurse ... - taking.mytime

Did Julia do the right thing by violating protocol to operate on Private Dempsey? What would you have done in her place?
Agree with everyone- she did the right thing- she had the courage and was willing to take that risk so she would be able to live with herself rather than let him die. - christinec

Did reading the Author's Note change your perception of anything in the novel?
I thought the author's note clarified things for me. It pulled it together in terms of a is sort of like the final chapter - joang

Did you understand Julia's hesitation about pursuing a romantic relationship with Fred?
I really think Julia was more interested in her career than in fostering a relationship. I think she and Fred would not have stayed together even if war had not broken out. - christineb

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Media Reviews

"Based on a true story, Wood's latest highlights Julia's quick thinking, organizational skills, and endlessly caring heart, bringing life to a brutal era. Fans of Patricia Harman will love Wood's treatment of medical expertise in a historical setting." - Booklist

"If you, like me, are a voyeur of historical drama that unfolds as if the kitchen window flew open and the characters were caught in action, then The War Nurse is for you. Tracey Enerson Wood's storytelling verisimilitude -- the detail, persuasive dialogue, and twinning of history with a hidden love story--prove her skill at immersion, but also that rarest of traits; a big and generous heart that roots for the unsung heroines and heroes of the time. This author shines a light for us all to see our past anew." - Diane Dewey, author of Fixing the Fates

"The War Nurse is a fascinating, intimate look at the true story of Julia Catherine Stimson and the incredible work she and her nurses did to save lives during World War I. Through careful research, this book shows the incredible bravery and compassion of women who find themselves in extraordinary situations." - Julia Kelly, international bestselling author of The Last Garden in England and The Light Over London

"If you've read The Engineers Wife, Tracey Enerson Wood's debut, you are already aware of her talent for merging fact and fiction into a story that will make your heart hurt and hold you captive until the very last page. She doesn't disappoint with The War Nurse. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book!" - Barbara Conrey, USA Today bestselling author of Nowhere Near Goodbye

"The War Nurse is a vividly rendered, moving tribute to one woman's determination to make a difference in the world. Tracey Enerson Wood sets us down in war-ravaged France and immerses us in the lives of a band of courageous nurses braving battles both physical and moral. A riveting and surprisingly timely story of courage, sacrifice, and friendship forged at the front lines." - Kelly Mustian, author of The Girls in the Stilt House

"Once again, Tracey Enerson Wood, with her impeccable research and evocative prose, kept me glued to the page. Wood has a talent for bringing strong, yet lesser-known women from history, to life. Her fictionalization of WWI nurse Julia Stimson, as well as the supporting cast, transported me back in time, had me smiling, crying, and learning. Fantastic!" - Linda Rosen, author of The Disharmony of Silence

"The War Nurse is a rich, gripping history of one woman's lifelong battle against systemic prejudice. As Tracey Enerson Wood's heroine says of herself, 'I wasn't a man, for whom the things I wanted to do would have been easy. I was meant to break down the wall in between.'" - Stewart O'Nan, award-winning author of The Good Wife

"Tracey Enerson Wood achieves two particularly difficult things with this novel: a fictionalization of a real person's life, which is always a challenge--and the feat of writing a character from a century past who is accessible to a modern audience but still entirely of her era. In The War Nurse, based on the true story of pioneering WWI nurse Julia Stimson, we are transported to early 20th century France, where a band of medical professionals struggles to meet the ever-changing demands of a war zone. You will smile, shed a few tears, and learn alongside Julia in this impeccably researched, well-drawn, based-on-a-true-story tale, written by a former RN. As our collective interest in WWI is reawakened, The War Nurse shines an important light on a woman whose story was, until now, lost to time." - Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names

This information about The War Nurse was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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The War Nurse
An enjoyable, informative historical fictionalized account of the important role nurses played during World War I focusing on Julia Stimson and the nurses under her command. All of the characters, based on true persons the author researched especially from the book Julia’s father wrote, “Finding Themselves,” which is a compilation of Julia’s letters to her father are well-developed and their stories during the time period especially how they interacted with one another are engaging. Julia Stimson’s successes, frustrations, and yes failures as the Superintendent of Nurses in particular is engaging because she must fight for implementing her discoveries and procedures, and care for nurses under her command when they think they are failing or not feeling well. The critical role the nurses played, as discussed in the book was so underappreciated and often negated by the doctors. Tracey Enerson Wood captures these stories making the reader contemplate: how much do we as readers know and appreciate less visible figures during critical times?


A Historical Fiction Must Read
I am a big fan of historical novels. I especially enjoy reading one that introduces me to figures from history about whom I have no knowledge. The War Nurse by Tracey Enerson Wood does just that. I had not ever heard of Julia Stimson.

Wood has done her research on Stimson’s life and accomplishments and has woven those facts into a mesmerizing recounting in fiction of Stimson’s world.
Julia Catherine Stimson was born in MA and graduated from Vassar College in 1901, a time when few women received an education beyond the age of fourteen. She followed up by attending the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses and then a master’s degree from Washington U in St. Louis in 1917. That same year, she joined Army Nurse Corps in WWI. Stimson received a number of awards for her service. In 1948, she was promoted to full colonel.

Wood takes readers on the journey with Stimson as she volunteers to train American nurses to help British nurses who have already been in the war. In fact, Stimson and her nurses are already engaged before American troops are deployed.

Stimson faces a number of tests. Not only is she training the nurses, but she also faces truly primitive conditions. The horrible war wounds add to her stress and difficulties. Not being able to get the supplies the nurses need and yet trying hard to save lives and give comfort to the wounded makes life more than difficult. These conditions made me think of the difficulties medical personnel and hospitals faced during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Stimson also faces prejudice because she is a woman and a nurse. Her strength of character and sense of right keep her going despite all the struggles she faces.
Wood did thorough research on Stimson’s life and career. Adding to that research, Wood herself is a nurse, so her understanding of the medical conditions and the lack of supplies Stimson faced mean even more. Readers can feel certain the medical explanations are accurate. The War Nurse will provide an excellent discussion for book clubs. Meaty topics such as understanding care of wounded soldiers, fighting for women’s rights, seeking recognition for nurses, and risking everything to save those soldiers.

The War Nurse is a must read for historical fiction buffs. It puts the spotlight squarely on Julia Stimson and her career. I am grateful to have received an advance copy from BookBrowse. Tracey Enerson Wood is also a member of NovelNetwork, a group that seeks to connect authors and readers. The book will be published July 6, 2021!

Cindy Roesel

Bravery during WWI
I've read a plethora of novels set during WWII. Tracey Enerson Wood's new novel, THE WAR NURSE (SourceBooks) offers a story about WWI based on nurse, Miss Julia Stimson, whose true story was lost until now.

Superintendent nurse, Stimson has one month to recruit, train and create policies and procedures for sixty-five nurses to be stationed at the Red Cross base camp in Rouen, France. Stimson finds herself caring and protective of her girls who will be close to the front, sacrificing their time with no return date set. American Expeditionary Forces Base Hospital 21, is a former racetrack set up to care for five hundred, but soon they are facing thirteen hundred patients. The novel focuses on the bravery and courage these nurses showed. Reading about the gases that were used against our troops and its effects on humans was cringe worthy.

Soldiers start coming into camp with a mysterious influenza-like disease causing coughing spasms. At first, those cases are dismissed as troops just trying to get out of going to the front, but with Stimson's leadership they realize there is a contagious influenza. It's the beginning of the pandemic of 1917-1918, which will go on to kill five-million people around the world. She fights to get an area set up just for those infected, most likely saving lives.

While reading Wood's novel, I couldn't help but recognize the similarity of the reaction to this misunderstood disease in 1918, to COVID-19 today. Wood gives readers some relief from the atrocities of war, by highlighting personal relationships. Readers will find a strong female character in Julia Stinson and once again, be reminded of the importance of nurses in the field of medicine.

Charla Wilson

Great Example of Important Women in History
This book is a wonderful example of the important roles women have played in history. Julia is a woman that wanted very much to be a physician in a time where such a career was rarely possible for a woman. So, she did the next best thing. She became a nurse and she became a great nurse. She was a nurse that was able to implement procedures that helped save lives because she had both the determination and the guts to stand up for her patients, her nurses and for what she believed was right and she did this at a time when few women ever spoke up what they believed in.


Good, not great
I was troubled by the fact that Julia Stimson was a real person, who really did serve in WWI, and really did do most of the terrific things in the book, yet the author felt compelled to add romantic interest that probably didn't occur and pulled in real people who may not have served with Stimson at all. I realize historical fiction is, in fact, fiction, but writing this book in the first person lent it an authenticity perhaps it shouldn't have had. That said, I did enjoy the book and might read another by Wood.


a bit of a disappointment
For historical fiction fans you will find a lot to enjoy here. Reading about the trials and tribulations of nurses recruited into overseas service for WWI victims is illuminating and enlightening. Julia Stimson was a nurse in real life with a noble history that has been swept under the ground. She was recruited initially to lead a group of 65 nurses to a British Base hospital in Rouen, France when American soldiers had not yet joined the fray. They may had been instructed in the dreaded scenarios before they went overseas but the horror of the injuries is nothing compared to real life situations. As a nurse myself who has been in trauma settings nothing prepares you like being out in the field. Perhaps this is the reason why I was not particularly enamored of the story. I felt that it glossed over the depths of what it was like in the tents and the minutiae of the nurses' experience. I kept wanting more dimension to detail as the full extent of the horrors is not revealed. Her love affair was not a necessary angle to include as I thought it took away from the primary purpose of the story.

Although her writing did not inspire me, it was clear and written simply which many will find comfortable. For those not acquainted with the intimacies, struggles and improvisation needed in these distressing situations, there is much to be gained from immersion of this novel.

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Author Information

Tracey Enerson Wood Author Biography

Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog.

Currently, Tracey focuses on finding amazing women in history whose stories need to be brought to life. She is eternally grateful to Sourcebooks Landmark for bringing this dream to reality. Tracey's debut novel, The Engineer's Wife, is an international and USA Today bestseller. Her second novel, The War Nurse was released in 2021 in hardback...

... Full Biography
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