Summary and book reviews of Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan

Heart in the Right Place

A Memoir

by Carolyn Jourdan

Heart in the Right Place
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 304 pages

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Book Summary

Heart in the Right Place, an alternately laugh-out-loud-funny and cry-your-eyes-out-serious memoir about the down-sizing of Carolyn Jourdan's life from white marble columns, gilded domes, and Neiman Marcus to naugahyde, peeling linoleum, and Wal-mart.

Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.

And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.

Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.

Eventually, Jourdan gave up her Mercedes and made do with a twenty-year-old postal jeep. She shed her suits for scrubs. And the funny thing was, she liked her new life. As she watched her father work tirelessly and uncomplainingly, she saw what making a difference really meant: being on call all hours of the day and night, tolerating the local drug addict's frequent phone calls, truly listening to Miss Hiawatha. It meant just showing up, every day, and taking care of every person in Strawberry Plains and beyond, whether he got paid to do it or not. And for his daughter, it meant learning that her real place to change the world was right here—in her hometown—by her father's side.

The Hankins Sisters

When my mother suddenly became ill with a heart problem, I was drafted as a temporary replacement for her in my father’s rural medical practice near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. I didn’t relish the idea of taking any leave from my glamorous job as a U.S. Senate lawyer, but it was an emergency and I was assured it would only be for a couple of days.

How could I say no? So I rushed home from Washington to fill in as his receptionist.

When I unlocked the front door of my father’s office at 7:30 the first morning, the phone was already ringing. I hurried inside and stretched across the reception desk to answer it.

“Dr. Jourdan’s office,” I said, out of breath.

“Do y’all wash out feet?” a woman shouted in a raucous voice.

I considered her question. Although I spoke the local dialect fluently, I had no idea what she meant. I said, “Excuse me?” and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Reading Group Guide

Public Service Quiz

What is of greater service to the American people:

  1. Riding on a nuclear submarine, pretending to sink ships and wipe out major cities by firing torpedoes and intercontinental ballistic missiles?
  2. Wiping up barf when you're the only person with access to the paper towels and mop.
  3. Riding in a Lear jet
  4. Watching rich people try to ride a horse
  5. Getting on C-Span wearing really expensive clothes
  6. Standing in your yard wearing $19 scrubs and petting your dog

First Aid Quiz

  1. What do you do when someone is electrocuted in an isolated area and one of you just sharpened your pocket knife?
  2. How do you remove a cast if it's getting on your nerves?
  3. What happens if you sew yourself ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The observant wit and wisdom of James Herriot lives on in Carolyn Jourdan's tales of life among the people of rural Tennessee - people as eccentric, tough, stubborn and stoical as the Yorkshire farmers of Herriot's time.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (532 words).

Media Reviews

Book Page - Howard Shirley

[A]n absolute delight of a book: warm, funny and written with great heart and understanding.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer - John Marshall

This is a soul-touching memoir filled with memorable Southern characters, plus plenty of country humor, but mostly a memoir about character -- the transformative power of selfless acts in forgotten places far from the spotlight.

Kathy Patrick - THE Pulpwood Queen, SouthernLiving.com

This book proves that yes, you can go home again and that quality of life is much better than quantity in life! Five Diamonds in the Tiara.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

This is a soul-touching memoir filled with memorable Southern characters, plus plenty of country humor, but mostly a memoir about character -- the transformative power of selfless acts in forgotten places far from the spotlight.

Booklist - Carol Haggas

With lavish affection, genuine respect, and exuberant humor, Jourdan offers a zestfully compassionate portrait of a poor community rich in the ways of true humanity.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] stirring, beautiful memoir that is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, and ultimately a triumph.

Author Blurb Dolly Parton
This is a wonderful book. I would have enjoyed it even if Carolyn wasn't a neighbor of mine in East Tennessee. She is a great writer.

Author Blurb Fannie Flagg
Heartwarming, funny, and utterly appealing.

Author Blurb Kate Whouley, author of Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved
Carolyn Jourdan's compelling memoir is by turns hilarious, sobering, and wise.

Reader Reviews

Louise J

A Most Delicious Memoir!!
This was a beautiful, serene, relaxing memoir and I absolutely adored this story! The characters are real and endearing, each of them carving out a special place in your heart. And what a gorgeous name of this town “Strawberry Plains”, how ...   Read More

S. E. Shorbe

Heart in the Right Place
Being from East Tennessee and having worked in a physicians office I really enjoyed Ms. Jourdan's book. It describes the heart of the people and location right on the mark. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it almost all the way through ...   Read More

deb y

When I read the first chapter of this book on DearReader.Com, I thought it might be a chick lit book I would enjoy - I think I am too old for most of them :) However, to my surprise and definite enjoyment, when I got it from my library, it was a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Carolyn Jourdan is a former U.S. Senate Counsel to the Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Committee on Governmental Affairs (now Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs). She has degrees from the University of Tennessee in Biomedical Engineering and Law. She lives on the family farm in East Knox County, Tennessee, and has seven stray animals (four dogs and three cats). Heart In The Right Place takes place over the course of a year in the early 1990s when her life changed dramatically when ...

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