Beautiful Unbroken

Beautiful Unbroken
One Nurse's Life
Mary Jane Nealon

Winner of the 2010 Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction

A Washington Blade "Best Book of the Year" and a “Writers Choice”

“Mary Jane Nealon’s gorgeous, riveting memoir about her life as a nurse pulls you in tight from the first page and doesn’t let go.”—Marie Claire

About the Book

An unflinching memoir by a working nurse

As a child, Mary Jane Nealon dreams of growing up to become a saint or, failing that, a nurse. She idolizes Clara Barton, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Molly Pitcher, whose biographies she reads and rereads. But by the time she follows her calling to nursing school, her beloved younger brother is diagnosed with cancer, which challenges her to bring hope and healing closer to home. His death leaves her shattered, and she flees into her work, and into poetry.

Beautiful Unbroken details Nealon’s life of caregiving, from her years as a flying nurse, untethered and free to follow friends and jobs from the Southwest to Savannah, to more somber years in New York City, treating men in a homeless shelter on the Bowery and working in the city’s first AIDS wards. In this compelling and revealing memoir, Nealon brings a poet’s sensitivity to bear on the hard truths of disease and recovery, life and death.

Additional Reviews

“Superb. . . . Nealon’s prose is spare and haunting. . . . Nealon’s writing is not mere catharsis. As the best memoirists do, Nealon holds her own experience up as a mirror for the reader. A mirror, and also a challenge. Again and again she asks herself—and us—to question the limits of empathy: ‘What is our responsibility when we stand alongside each other? At the elevator, at a bus stop, when ordering a bacon and tomato sandwich on rye, buying a movie ticket?’ Beautiful Unbroken convinces us that nurses, whose daily lives are steeped in both suffering and compassion, are in a unique position to pose such questions. It makes us wish for more literature by nurses—especially by this one.”—The Boston Globe

“Pay attention to [Mary Jane] Nealon—she’s a keeper. . . . I desperately wish skilled poets like Nealon wrote at least half of all memoirs. This is to be savored. There are mediations on life, death, leaving, returning, growing, healing; I will reread it.”—Library Journal, starred review

“Nurses are the frontline soldiers of the healthcare field, witnessing atrocities in the trenches that most of us never see. But while many great doctor-authors—Richard Selzer, Lewis Thomas—have brought poetic insight to their calling, there are far fewer well-known memoirs from this essential profession. Mary Jane Nealon remedies that lack with her vivid and stirring account of a life spent ministering to the terminally ill, diffusing the suffering and grace she’s encountered into these pages.”—The Barnes & Noble Review

“[Nealon’s] poetic sensibility runs through the book, which becomes an elevated meditation on the meaning of her work. there’s nothing pretty about nursing, she makes clear, and maybe there’s nothing pretty about the urges behind becoming a healer; the yearning to be saintly, the idea that, in the hurdles and heartbreak of the lives of others lie the keys to one’s own.”—Daily News (New York)