The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

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It's 1849, and twelve-year-old Lucas Whitaker is all alone after his whole family dies of a disease called consumption which has swept through the community. Lucas is grief-stricken and filled with guilt. He might have saved his mother, who was the last to die, if only he had listened to news of a strange cure for this deadly disease.

Unable to manage the family farm by himself, Lucas finds work as an apprentice to Doc Beecher, doctor, dentist, barber and undertaker. Doc amputates a leg as easy as he pulls a tooth, yet when it comes to consumption, he remains powerless, unwilling to try the cure he calls nonsense. Lucas can't accept Doc's disbelief, and he joins others in the dark ritual they believe is their only hope. The startling results teach Lucas a great deal about fear, desperation, and the scientific reasoning that offers hope for a true cure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780788708855
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 01/07/2002
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many bestselling books for young readers, including Wild Life, The Ghost of Cutler Creek, Signal, The Missing Manatee, and Weasel. Her books have been nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children's Books and Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year, among numerous other honors. She lives in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Connecticut countryside, 1849

The grave was dug. Carefully, Lucas Whitaker hammered small metal tacks into the top of the coffin lid to form his mother's initials: H.W., for Hannah Whitaker. Then he stood up to straighten his tired back. All that was left was to lower the pine box into the cold, hard ground and cover it with dirt.

But Lucas didn't move. He stared blindly at the double line of grave markers in the little family burial ground. There were the graves of two infants, his brother and sister, each of whom had died so soon after birth that Lucas could scarcely remember anything about them except the sight of their tiny, red fists waving in the air and the sound of their feeble crying.

Their graves were so small that the fieldstones stuck in the ground to mark their heads and feet were no farther apart than the length of Lucas's arm.

Next were the stones marking the place where Lucas's Uncle Asa was buried. Asa had died of consumption two years before. Soon after, Lucas's sister Lizy, just four years old, had fallen to the same dread disease.

When they'd buried Lizy, Lucas and his father had worked together in stunned silence, afraid to think about, much less speak about, the mysterious way in which the sickness could sweep through a household taking one family member after another.

That night Lucas's mother had clasped him to her, weeping. "How long shall I be allowed to keep you?" she'd whispered.

But the next to be afflicted had not been Lucas. He shuddered as he remembered the way the large, powerful man who had been his father had turned slowly into a thin, pale stranger, too weak to stand. Until at last Lucas, working alone on ahot August day, tears mingling with the sweat of his labor, had buried his father, too.

Now, standing on the rocky hillside by his mother's grave, with the raw wind of late February tearing at his hair and clothing, Lucas felt nothing but a dull, gray weariness. Since the death of his father and Asa, it had taken every bit of strength he had just to make it from day to day. He'd learned to push his sorrow deep inside somewhere in order to get on with the hard work that was always waiting to be done on the farm.

When his mother's cheeks grew first flushed and red, then gray and gaunt, when she began to be taken by fits of coughing that left her clutching her chest in pain, Lucas gave up trying to keep the farm going. He spent his days by his mother's bedside, watching her waste away just as Lizy, and Pa, and Asa had done. He coaxed her to take spoonfuls of tea and wheat porridge. Holding her thin shoulders as her body was racked with coughing, he thought helplessly that it was as if something--or someone--were draining the very life from her.

Desperately, he tried the only remedy he knew, filling a pipe with dried cow dung and begging his mother to smoke it. The coughing only grew worse.

One day, a neighbor by the name of Oliver Rood rode out to the farm and offered to take care of the animals. "I hear your mother's real bad sick, Lucas. I'll take the creatures off your hands for the present, and come back in a few days to see how you're getting on."

"I'd be grateful to you, sir," said Lucas.

Finally, the time came when he could no longer pre tend that his mother would live. There was nothing to do but stay by her until death came. When she was gone, he felt something rise in his throat, a mixture of terror and anger and grief so strong that he was afraid to give voice to it.

Summoning all the strength of his will, he pushed the feeling down and down . . . until he'd felt the way he did now, his insides as numb and cold as the rough red hands that grasped the shovel.

Quickly, he finished the job. Then, opening his mother's Bible, he tried to read, but the words sounded stiff and hollow and held no comfort. He closed the book. There were people who had told him to adapt the deaths in his family as "God's will." But, hard as Lucas tried, he couldn't understand why God would want such things to happen.

Other folks had told him disease was the work of the devil. Still others believed it was witches who caused illness. He shook his head, baffled by it all. People got sick. They died. That he knew.

There were no friends or family to join him in mourning. The closest neighbors, the Hapgoods, had sold their farm and gone west, where the land was supposed to be cheap and plentiful. Lucas hadn't carried word to the Roods, or to any others. Their farms were far away. They had their own work and their own problems.

Lucas was alone.

Copyright ) 1996 by Cynthia C. DeFelice

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The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay first of all you should totally buy it. Second of all you will not want to put it down. Im telling you all it is very good I have read 5 of her books I read signal (really good check it out) and i read more they are amazing its about a boys family dies so he sets out and looks for a place to get money and live he meets a doctor and is his apprentice so............... GO READ IT!!!!!! You will regret it if you dont.
HomeSchoolBookReview More than 1 year ago
Set in 1849 New England, this book tells the story of twelve-year-old Lucas Whitaker, whose entire family dies of consumption (tuberculosis). The neighboring Rood family has heard of a "cure," based on the assumption the first in a family to die comes back to make the others sick, that involves digging up that family member, and Mr. Rood says that after he did it his son Enoch got better, but it is too late for Lucas to try. In the foreword, the author says that historical evidence does indicate that this belief and practice were prevalent in pre-Civil War New England. In his grief, Lucas runs away and becomes an apprentice to Doc Uriah Beecher, who scoffs at the "cure" as nothing but rumor but is powerless against the disease. Lucas helps a local family do the "cure," which involves cutting the heart out of the dead family member and burning it, but later sees that the rumors that people report about it simply do not match with what he actually saw. He goes back to his home to find that Enoch Rood did eventually die and eventually learns that true science must overcome superstition. Some people might want to lump believing in God with the superstition, although the book itself does not do that but has both Doc and Lucas praying for those who were sick. After his mother's death, Lucas does question the Bible and God, and this is never really given a satisfactory conclusion. The interjections "O Lord" and "By God" are used frequently, along with some colloquial euphemisms (tarnation, confounded). Moll Garfield, a local woman from whom Doc buys his herbs, smokes a pipe, and before doing surgery Doc himself takes a swig of the whiskey that is to be given to a patient whose leg is to be amputated. While undoubtedly historically accurate, the references to the "cure" are somewhat graphic and might be difficult for those who are sensitive. All in all, it is not a bad book, but it could be a lot better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Judging from what that last girl said I wouldnt reccomend this book to anyone. I mean I read it myself but it got soo boring I went to go do something more fun and adventurous and I had totally forgotten about th book. Then 2 weeks later when the cleaners came to our house they found the book under my bed. (I had gotten in trouble for not turning it in because I lost it and almost ended up having to pay for my overdue library book.) Anyway I deeply deeply do NOT reccomend this book to anyone because its just gross and disgusting and boring soo DONT READ THIS BOOK NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE SAYS ABOUT IT !!!!! >:-( P.S. If you could give these boks no stars thats what it would get from me. But you cant do that so Im only going to give it 1 star. >:-(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are reading this in school so i am going to try to buy it so i can sudy it an get A+
Superdaisy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had read so many dark books by this point that I was wondering whether my school was intentionally recommending depressing books! This had a fascinating backstory, and might be one of those books that sucks kids into learning about history.
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