Lib Wright is a Florence Nightingale-trained nurse who is called upon to keep watch over a girl in 1959 Ireland who supposedly can live without eating.
Lib arrives from England ignorant of this country’s culture and Roman Catholic faith, as well as with her own prejudices and assumption. She meets Anna, the girl who allegedly hasn’t eaten since her eleventh birthday, which was four months before. The girl is clearly alive and spirited, but the nurse in Lib sees troubling symptoms: swollen feet and hands, distended belly, fine hair growing on the girl’s skin, bleeding gums.
Lib has been hired by a committee of local men, including the parish priest Mr. Thaddeus and Anna’s own physician, Dr. McBrearty, to determine if Anna is somehow secretly getting food, or if she is indeed a living miracle. Lib shares her two-week watch with Sister Michael, a taciturn nun who alternates 8 hour shifts with Lib.
Convinced that the whole thing is a hoax, Lib keeps a strict watch over Anna and writes her symptoms down everyday in her memorandum book. But very soon, Anna begins to get worse, and Lib fears the girl will die soon. She brings her concerns to Dr. McBrearty, but the man is too delusional to listen to her-he’s either hopeful that Anna is truly miraculous, or is convinced that she is(“scientifically” adapting to life without food. There is no help with Anna’s parents, either her inappropriately cheery mother or her resigned, fatalistic father. Everyone’s too wrapped up in religious fervor. Even Sister Michael, a fellow nurse, is determined to just do the job she was hired for: to watch.
As Lib gets to know the girl even as she deteriorates, she cannot simply stand by and watch her die. She finds an unlikely ally in William Byrne, an Irish journalist who is seeking a story on Anna, a man who stirs Lib’s emotions as well as the secrets she carries inside. But what are Anna’s secrets? Lib is convinced the answers lie within the girl herself, and the crux of the story is the mystery of why Anna won’t eat. The answer is shocking and heartrending, but the ending satisfied when I wasn’t so sure it would.
I’d call this book a psychological mystery; it kept me turning the pages, puzzling out the mystery of Anna.