Author: Shelley Nolden
In the shadows of New York City lies forbidden North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses an enigmatic beauty through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family’s dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Will Cora meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who’ve already perished on the island?
The Vines intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.
If you have ever heard the tale of Typhoid Mary, an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid that infected multiple other people, then you are most likely have an inkling of the tale of the quarantine hospital on North Brother Island that was created over 100 years ago. The Vines is a well-researched fictional tale that takes place at a real location that is both haunting and fascinating. If you just Google this place, you will most likely fall down the rabbit hole for North and South Brother Islands as you uncover story after story about this location. This is a thrilling debut novel that does contain a few cliffhangers, so, although it can be read as a standalone, it is good to be aware that there is a sequel in the works.
Cora McSorley is a resident of the hospital. She is sent there to quarantine due a virus where she thinks that she will be like other patients that went there and were released when their time was complete. Instead, she is kept there by the doctors to be used as a research subject due to her infecting others. Although Cora went to the island to recover from one disease, she seems possibly immune to others, which makes her of great interest to the doctors there. She is trapped and constantly poked and prodded as the doctors take samples from her. It is a fascinating take on medicine, before the age of vaccines, where the reader can possibly see how a doctor can become obsessed with a person to try and figure out a cure, while also seeing the other side of seeing the torment centering the person in question.
Finn Gettler is on a mission to explore North Brother Island, which is now a bird sanctuary after being closed in the 1960s. His family ancestry has a tie to the island as his great grandfather and later his grandfather were doctors at the hospital on the island It is on the trip to the island that he encounters Cora. Here there is the first of many mysteries that need to be figured out as Cora’s life is tied all the way back to Finn’s great grandfather, Otto. Finn sets off to research further into his family history and uncover every potential secret.
The writing was very interesting as it was clear that the author did her research as the novel, at times, felt like a true story. The story moves along at a decent pace where the main events move along and then the reader is taken back to the past to have the backstory play out before returning to the present. There are modern diseases, including a strain of Coronavirus (one of the novel’s timeline takes place in the mid-2000s, which is about the time of the Coronavirus-based SARS outbreak). The other timelines in the story range from the 1960s all the way back to the early 1900s. The story takes a bit to get into as the reader wraps their head around the different timelines and stories.
This novel seamlessly weaves together truth and fiction as there are some characters, and of course, the setting, that actually existed in reality. There are tons of secrets and mystery in this novel along with family drama. The Gettler family is a fascinating set of characters as they have a lot of darkness surrounding them, but they also work towards creating cures for diseases. Cora’s story of surviving and her mental state was an enthralling read as it felt sometimes as if the reader is reading a memoir instead of a fictional tale. There was a part that made the story feel real and it is further aided by actual history weaved throughout. I am beyond curious to read the sequel as I want to learn more and see what will happen next!
**I want to give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Freiling Publishing, for a review copy of this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**