BookTalk: Do No Harm

by Sharon Kane

donoharmWe would like to think that brain surgeons are infallible, though of course that is an unrealistic expectation, as Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery (2014, Thomas Dunne Books) demonstrates. Marsh shares his weaknesses, misjudgments, and anxieties as a neurosurgeon along with fascinating details of adventures he’s had in the operating room. We come to admire his talents in both his medical specialty and his writing as he “attempt[s] to give an honest account of what it is like to be a neurosurgeon” (p. x).

Most of the chapter titles indicate the conditions that lead to the need for Marsh’s services. The chapters include details of particular surgeries (most of which include a lot of blood), conversations with patients pre-and-post surgery, and explanations of how Marsh makes decisions in situations that are fraught with risk. Readers can feel his remorse and anguish when patients worsen after surgery, and his exhilaration when a seemingly hopeless scenario turns around due to his skill.

In one chapter, Marsh describes himself as a patient. He explains, “Most medical students go through a brief period when they develop all manner of imaginary illnesses . . . until they learn, as a matter of self-preservation, that illnesses happen to patients, not to doctors” (p. 215). He notes that doctors often dismiss their own initial symptoms and can be slow to diagnose themselves. But he could not ignore the effects of a vitreous detachment and thus had to place himself in the hands of a retinal surgeon. Another time, he broke his leg, and after that surgery his doctor “insisted on keeping me in hospital for five days on the grounds that I was a doctor and would not listen to his medical advice that I should rest my leg. . .” (p. 228). Some of his colleagues saw him in the hospital and “looked somewhat startled to see me disguised as a patient in a dressing gown with a leg in plaster” (p. 229).

Marsh manages to turn everything into a story, which is what makes this nonfiction account of his career so fascinating. He presents ethical dilemmas and then brings us along on his rounds as he deals with them. Marsh is an expert in his field and is someone I would trust.

Appropriate for high school and beyond

biology, ethics, careers, ELA

BookTalk: Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey

by Sharon Kane

daretodisappointI visited Turkey a few years ago, and fell in love with the country. So when I began reading Özge Samanci’s memoir in graphic novel format, Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey (2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), I was pleased to recognize some of the places and events mentioned, and I was eager to learn more about Turkish culture and history. Despite Özge’s childhood taking place in Turkey in the 1980s, the coming-of-age story is familiar, with what feels like a universal theme.

Panels and speech balloons take readers back and forth between school and home, where Özge works toward discovering, or constructing, her unique identity. A chapter on politics, called “Atatürk,” connects to her search for identity. The text of the Student Oath is included; it begins and ends with “I am a Turk.” In one panel, a bird says that “Students repeat this oath 800 times before they graduate from primary school” (p. 27). Özge’s uncle, a socialist, tells her she is being brainwashed. TV is censored. Her beloved teacher uses Özge’s pink ruler to beat her and her classmates. Figuring out her identity is complex, and so is figuring out her future.

Özge’s father insists she have a career in medicine or engineering. He only wants the best for her, which in his mind equates with security. Özge craves her father’s approval, yet the picture of Jacques Cousteau on her bedroom wall whispers to her, suggesting a different path. She boards at Istanbul Atatürk Science High School, where the principal insists there is no such thing as evolution, and teachers espouse the subservience of women. She does not fit in.

At college she majors in math, but isn’t passionate about it and doesn’t do well. Her father does not support her decision to add a drama major. Life after college brings more conflict. Özge fights with her father about his expectation that she should marry in addition to their never-ending arguments about a career. Will she ever truly find herself? I recommend this book for those who need hope and encouragement on their way to becoming themselves, no matter what their culture, family, or internal anxieties may be.


Appropriate for middle school and high school

art, careers, ELA, history, psychology