Cherry Ames: Army Nurse by Helen Wells

Cherry Ames Army Nurse

Information

GoodreadsCherry Ames: Army Nurse
Series: Cherry Ames #3
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 1944

Summary

Having graduated from nursing school, Cherry decides to become an Army nurse and is now Lieutenant Ames. But, before she is sent to the front lines, she has pass basic training in Panama City. Along the way, she encounters a man with a mysterious disease. Could Dr. Joe’s new serum save him?

Star Divider

Review

Well! Cherry has finally done it! She’s passed her three years of nursing school and, after two books full of her musing on the need for more girls to become Army nurses, she has decided to become one herself. This feels like it should be the climax of the series after all those calls to arms in the previous installments and yet–all Cherry does is go through basic training and then get mixed up in a possible malaria case. Book three is a bit of letdown after all the impassioned speeches. Still, readers who enjoy Cherry will find much of the same formula here, as well as possibly more excitement in book four, when she gets to go to the front.

Cherry Ames: Army Nurse was first published in 1944, so much of its interest lies in the way the book is basically used as wartime propaganda. In the last book, Cherry and her entire class all decided to answer the call for more Army nurses, so now they are in basic training. The book seems to depict the types of training fairly realistically, describing how the nurses have to drill like soldiers and pass obstacle courses by crawling through mud under barbed wire and climbing nets. That is in addition to their learning how to manage a ward full of patients while being understaffed (Remember, girls–you’re needed! Sign up for nursing school now!). But, despite all that, Cherry Ames: Army Nurse depicts Army life as fun. The nurses get the excitement of traveling to new places, glamorous new uniforms, and tons of attention from the men. The book really wants its readers to start training as nurses. As the characters keep telling each other, if you enter the Cadet Nurse Corps, you get free tuition, clothing, room and board–even an allowance!!

Patriotic speeches aside, the book shines mostly while depicting Cherry’s time in basic training. The rest of the story is comprised of a confusing plot line wherein she discovers a man suffering from a mysterious disease, and has to identify what it is, and where he contracted it–except some people are mad she found the man and that she broke Army protocol to do it. It seems sort of irrelevant and tacked on, but the books like to add a bit of “mystery” to each of the nursing stories.

Cherry Ames: Army Nurse is sort of a fun flashback to the 1940s, but for me its interest lies mainly in its historical aspects. I found the storyline a little weak, and do not currently feel inclined to keep reading the series.

3 Stars

Cherry Ames: Senior Nurse by Helen Wells

Cherry Ames Senior Nurse

Information

Goodreads: Cherry Ames: Senior Nurse
Series: Cherry Ames #2
Age Category: Children’s
Source: Library
Published: 1944

Summary

Now a senior nurse, Cherry has to focus on earning her black graduation bow. But she still has fun in the wards–like the time someone lets a rabbit loose in the children’s section! Plus, she has a new potential beau, a doctor known throughout the hospital as a cyclone. But then her attention is drawn to the mystery surrounding Dr. Joe’s new treatment, a penicillin that could help the war effort. No one is supposed know what he’s working on in his lab, but, soon, rumors spread throughout the hospital, and the penicillin formula could be in danger.

Star Divider

Review

The Cherry Ames books are a classic example of a “girls series”–books featuring young women who taken on more independent roles as teenage sleuths or perhaps career women. Cherry Ames is a nurse and her series trumpets the nobility of nursing as a calling, to inspire readers to sign up to help the war effort. (This book was first published in 1944.) But the Cherry Ames books have a vivid, realistic feeling that make them still relevant today. Cherry is no Nancy Drew, static and perfect. Rather, she is a young woman who sometimes makes mistakes, but who tries hard and ultimately finds her way. Readers who love classic stories will find much to delight them in Cherry Ames.

Cherry Ames: Senior Nurse admittedly loses a bit of the charm from the first book, since Cherry is in her third year of school now and she feels much more assured in her career. Though she may look forward to graduating, and though she may be wavering between serving as an Army nurse or on the home front, she really has no fear that she will not graduate at all. Much of the drama, then, comes from interpersonal conflicts. She has “adopted” a probationary nurse who does not seem to want her mentorship, and she has a whirlwind flirtation with a a fiery-tempered doctor, who expresses his interest by ordering Cherry around: “I’m going to take you to the dance” and so forth. (Yeah, this romance is dated, to say the least.) The stakes are just so much lower.

Cherry’s story still has a human interest appeal, however, because Cherry herself feels so human. Even as a senior, she still likes a good practical joke, and she will bend the rules sometimes to have a little fun or to try to cheer up a patient. She also struggles with her own passionate temper, sometimes judging someone too hastily or flaring up at slight provocations. Though the book presents nursing as a higher calling, Cherry is no saint. And, in that, she is relatable.

Of course, since this book was originally published in the 1940s, some aspects of the book are dated. While Cherry’s job as a nurse seems to make her more sympathetic than other protagonists to people who are not white middle-class women, the book does show its biases in the way it depicts some of the patients Cherry encounters. While Cherry still gives them the best of care, the author does imply that some backgrounds will make a person less cleanly, agreeable, or socially acceptable than others. Readers should be aware going into the book that it does not live up to contemporary values, but, indeed, centers white middle-class women and their stories.

The Cherry Ames books can be approached a variety of ways by readers. They may appeal to readers who like old-fashioned stories that are focused on character development and “wholesome” fun like going to dances or going out for a soda. But they are also a fascinating glimpse into the concerns of the past–not only concerns about the ongoing war efforts, but also concerns about gender and professionalization.

4 stars

Cherry Ames: Student Nurse by Helen Wells

Cherry Ames Student NurseInformation

Goodreads: Cherry Ames: Student Nurse
Series: Cherry Ames #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1943

Summary

Eighteen-year-old Cherry Ames dreams of serving others as a nurse.  She sets off to nursing school to begin her training, but fears she will never pass her probationary period as long as the strict Dr. Wylie seems out to get her.

Review

I have seen Cherry Ames compared to Nancy Drew and, on one level, the comparison makes a lot of sense.  Like Nancy, Cherry presents herself as a confident young woman possessed of all the skills she needs to succeed in a world where men still dominated many careers.  She launched onto the literary scene in the 1940s when she encouraged and inspired young girls not only to try a career in nursing but also to do so in order to help the war effort.  Her message—though never presented as a message in the book—is that girls can achieve anything if they persevere.

Nancy and Cherry share more than confidence, however.  Both are outgoing, cheerful women who seem to have an instinct for saying or doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.  However, though I now consider Nancy a bit of a Mary Sue, Cherry never grated on me the same way.  Her high spirits occasionally get her into trouble and she is human enough that she can mess up—big time—when put under pressure.  I felt like we could be friends and I found myself deeply invested in her worries and her fears, rooting her on as she struggled to with difficult patients and cheering for her when she made headway in her training.

The drama of nursing school makes for an exciting enough story, but apparently each book also contains a mini mystery.  This is where the comparisons to Nancy Drew breaks down.  Nancy is a detective; Cherry is a nurse.  Though Cherry may, in the line of duty, find herself enveloped in a mystery, the plot never focuses on it.  Nursing, studying, and friendships all come first.  I think that is important because it really sets the two apart. You don’t pick up a Cherry Ames story because you want Nancy Drew; you pick it up because you want Cherry.  She is not a copycat, but utterly and irrevocably herself.

Because the story proved so strong and Cherry so likeable, I was pleased to discover that the series has been reprinted since 2005.  This is something I would love to pass on to young girls, to inspire them to think about the kinds of jobs they would find worthwhile and the types of characteristics that can help them to achieve their goals.  I plan on finding a copy of the second book to discover whether Cherry will finally earn her coveted nurse’s cap.