A bit about Kate Cunningham
Kate Cunningham has worked for a development charity and as a primary teacher. She now writes books that are either directly about history, or inspired by events from the past.
The inspiration behind Mary
When I set out to write about a post-pandemic dystopian world, the plan was to just visualise it, not live it. I was happy to delve into the past, throw in some imagination and write a fictional story.
But the spirits of time decided to mix things up a bit. The edits were complete at the end of 2019, just as we were thrown into the reality of a very real new contagion that would change all our
priorities. Eight months later I went back reconnected with my characters and their story. I reread my script with trepidation — my perspective had shifted, but the story stood.
The spark that lit this story was Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary, the flames were fanned by stories of pandemics past, present and future.
Who was Typhoid Mary?
Mary Mallon was a woman in the United States, an Irish immigrant to be precise, who caused between 51 – 122 cases of typhoid! She was an asymptomatic carrier and didn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom.
On the other hand, she’s the first person in the US to be an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, so that’s a record!
I hope I have you intrigued, so here’s the blurb if you don’t to read my spoiler laden review!
MARY has only ever seen white. The white of her walls, the bed, her clothes and the bio suits the Testers wear when they come in to take samples.
Every day is the same – white.
But for the new Tester, Vander, it is a reminder of his own life, trapped by indenture, forced to spend his life repaying the cost of raising him, like all the other Red Plague orphans.
When Vander decides to help MARY he starts a chain of events that will challenge friendships, revisit past betrayals and threaten the safety of a world teetering on the brink of catastrophe.
Warning: Contains scenes relating to a pandemic and some violence.
Mary is definitely better for people who love reading about the pandemic. It took me a while to register that I literally do not like Vander and Mary because they don’t, especially the former, ever really seem to get smarter or just more careful.
Like Vander I really disliked, just because buddy, did you not realise that Mary was carrying a disease and that’s why everyone was suited up? I mean even if he thought it was to keep her safe from what they might have exposed her to, did you not think that what if I kill her by bringing her out here?
Also, she’s been wiped clean and knows very little, how did that dynamic not make it weird?
I can’t blame Mary, but I can’t like her either. On one hand, it’s literally not her fault, but on the other, I’m still angry that an asymptomatic carried can just walk around like that and never realise that it’s her fault!
But yeah, I guess that the part of me still working from home because of the pandemic.
Of course, the whole cast and crew around them wasn’t that much better, but I feel like they’re perfectly appropriate for the world around them, which is cruel and hard. The child bank concept was really interesting to me.
The author has really taken some things from the world we live in and applied them to the book. I guess that’s why you get angry while reading it. I can understand why you’d want to keep Mary locked up, even though I register that it’s not an okay thing to do to a person, regardless of the situation.
It’s important to feel uncomfortable while reading, and I think that’s what I appreciate most about Kate Cunningham’s book. I also feel like it would be great book to read in a classroom or book club because you wouldn’t be able to stop arguing!