Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

Cynthia DeFelice
For ages 10 to 12
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: John McDonough
Recorded Books, 1997   ISBN: 978-0788708855

Everyone whom Lucas Whitaker cares for in the world has been taken from him. Papa, little Lizzie, Uncle Asa, and now Mama; they have all got the consumption and died and now he is all alone. He feels even worse when a neighbor comes around and tells him about a “cure” that people are trying. To get the cure to work you have to dig up the body of the first person in your family who died of the consumption. Then you have to perform some kind of ritual on the heart of the dead person. Once the dead person is “put to rest” he or she will no longer walk about making other people sick.

Sick with grief and guilt because he wasn’t able to save Mama with the new cure twelve year old Lucas runs away from his old life and he gets a job in a nearby town. Serving as the apprentice to the town doctor Lucas begins to feel better about himself He also begins to learn from “Doc” that it is important to base your knowledge on fact and not on superstition. Is the so-called cure based simply on superstition and hope after all or is there really something to it?

Told from Lucas’ point of view this story about a boy living in Connecticut in 1849 is both moving and fascinating. It is hard to imagine that there ever was a time when people knew so little about the science of illness and yet in the mid 1800’s medicine was still in its infancy. So many people died from illnesses in those days and in desperation those left behind were willing to do almost anything to help save the living. Even if it meant that they had to desecrate the bodies of the dead.

Though many of the characters in this story suffer great pain, grief, and loss, there is also a message of hope in the tale which comes through clearly at the conclusion of the story. Though Lucas and Doc may not have a cure for consumption today, they can work hard towards finding a cure for the future.