Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: The Virtues of Oxygen

The Virtues of Oxygen
by Susan Schoenberger

Why did you choose this book? it sounded like a good summer read
When did you read this book? August 2014
Who should read this book? readers who enjoy friendship stories
Source: TLC Book Tours
Here is a synopsis of The Virtues of Oxygen from TLC Book TOURS

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

My Review

When I was offered the chance to review this book, I almost passed on it. To be honest, I tend to judge a book, at least initially, by its cover, and this one does nothing for me! But luckily I went on to read the synopsis and decided to read the book. I’m so glad I did!

This is a story of a friendship. Vivian contracted polio as a young girl and was left paralyzed to the point that she can not breathe without the assistance of the iron lung, a chamber which encloses her entire body from the neck down. She requires 24/7 care to be sure she does not choke and to make sure the generator comes on if she loses electricity. Many of her caregivers are volunteers from her community, one of whom is Holly, a widow with two teenage boys, who is on the brink of bankruptcy. Her husband died when the boys were very young, and she has lived paycheck to paycheck since. She has had no time for romance or entertainment or anything outside the day to day routine of earning a living and caring for her children and Vivian. She has been able to pay her mortgage each month, just barely, with a little help from her mother, but when her mother suffers a stroke, things come to a crisis.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the way the community pulled together to support Vivian. It was also interesting to see the different reactions people had to Holly’s financial status, and how Holly perceived others felt about her due to her financial difficulties. I also enjoyed reading Vivian’s back-story, told in unaired podcasts spread throughout the book.

I grew up hearing horror stories of polio and iron lungs as the justification for getting shots at the doctor. I’m not sure I ever really took it seriously or realized just how devastating polio can be, and I certainly did not realize that iron lungs are NOT things of the distant past. I’ve seen one in the local science center, but I thought they were relics, so it really surprised me to read this contemporary story of a woman who lives life in an iron lung. The author explains her inspiration for Vivian came from a newspaper article she’d read about a polio survivor named Martha Mason, who also lived life in an iron lung. After I finished the book, I googled Martha Mason to learn more about her, and recognized that many of the details in the book came from her story. You can learn more about Martha in this article and this article, or view a short documentary of her life below.

About Susan Schoenberger

Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Susan at her website,

My Rating:  ★★★1/2   3-1/2 Stars

This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I was provided a review copy and have written an honest review which appears above.

Susan’s Tour Stops

Monday, July 21st:  Bookchickdi
Tuesday, July 22nd:  Kimberly’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, July 23rd:  Bibliotica
Thursday, July 24th:  Fiction Zeal
Monday, July 28th:  Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway
Tuesday, July 29th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, July 30th:  Reading Reality
Thursday, July 31st:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, August 4th:  Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, August 5th:  Library of Clean Reads
Wednesday, August 6th:  Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, August 7th:  Sidewalk Shoes
Friday, August 8th:  Mom in Love with Fiction
Monday, August 11th:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, August 12th:  BookNAround
Wednesday, August 13th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, August 18th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, August 20th:  Reviews from the Heart
Thursday, August 21st:  Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, August 22nd:  Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, August 25th:   I’d Rather Be at the Beach
Tuesday, August 26th:  Missris
Wednesday, August 27th:  Time 2 Read
Wednesday, September 3rd:  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

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  1. Kim, glad u enjoyed this one . I'll be reading/reviewing it in the next few weeks.

  2. I'm glad that you didn't let your first impression of the cover dissuade you from reading this fabulous book! Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.