The story is prefaced with the first, tense operation on a tiny "blue baby" a girl whose malformed heart was threatening her life. Until that moment, heart surgery was an unknown and impossible procedure. Even more startling, the quiet man supervising the operation from behind the scenes was African-American.
Dr. Alfred Blalock, a researcher and chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, was encouraged to pursue the research into saving the lives of blue babies by pediatrician Dr. Helen Taussig. But it was Vivien Thomas, a man whom most assumed was just a janitor, who was the true genius behind the procedure.
Murphy walks readers through the struggles and personality conflicts leading to the pivotal operation, to the challenges faced by the researchers both in their personal lives and in medical science, and follows the results of fame and fortune for some and near-obscurity for others.
End materials include extensive source notes with explanations, bibliography, credits and index. Despite the positive aspects of the book, it just doesn't grab the reader. Is it interesting and important to read about the contributions of often overlooked people like Thomas and female doctors like Taussig? Absolutely. Does Murphy do a good job of explaining the situation, context, and following the story? Yes. But despite all that the story just....drags. It meanders into descriptions of surgical instruments and anatomy, digresses into the vivisection controversy, and only at the end does it follow up on the results of the first child to undergo the operation. To sell narrative nonfiction to middle grade readers there needs to be a strong narrative and this didn't feel that strong to me.
Verdict: Although it's a title I'd love to purchase to diversify the collection and because it's an interesting story, it doesn't have the same grab as Jarrow's medical mysteries and some of Murphy's previous titles. If you have a larger collection or more dedicated readers, this would be a good choice.