Emily Mendenhall, ed. Global Health Narratives: A Reader for Youth. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. Pp. xvii+216, glossary, contributors, line drawings, maps, index. $21.95 paper.
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Global Health Narratives: A Youth Reader has social action at its core, utilizing the personal experience narrative to promote intercultural dialogue and to reveal the realities of how health issues affect youth throughout the world. Inspired by a course on narrative and health at Emory University, Mendenhall’s collection is a starting point for its readers, whether they are sixth-graders, university age, or scholars, to reflect upon their own health experiences.
Though the majority of the narratives in this collection were written by individuals whose primary research focuses on the field of health, the list of contributors includes authors from backgrounds such as theology, education and sociology. Divided into six parts (Asia, Oceania, the United States, Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa and Europe), the Reader includes narratives from both developed and underdeveloped nations, demonstrating how health issues are part of all societies. Trachoma in Tanzania is just as important to deal with as bulimia in the United States, and the struggles of those dealing with the disorders receive equal representation.
Each story begins by describing the life of the main character, specifying what illness they are dealing with, and goes on to demonstrate the social and cultural issues related to illness in this context, making these problems accessible to a younger audience. The “reading levels” mentioned at the beginning of each section are a bit ambiguous, having no mention of whether they are organized by age or grade. It would definitely be helpful for future editions of this book to be a bit clearer about the targeted age group.
The geographic distribution in this book is a little uneven; whereas the United States is large enough to have its own unit, the section on Oceania only contains one story. As many cultures as there are in Oceania (as well as Australia), it is surprising to see only one narrative about this region. The countries and areas that are represented, however, are treated well.
The supplementary materials available on the book’s website enhances its effectiveness. The narratives are available for reading in their entirety online, in addition to teaching guides; these guides, with listed learning objectives, activities and discussion points, are an excellent supplement to the book. The combination of the book and website are much more effective than the book itself, and it would be useful to discuss the website in greater detail in the introductory part of the book.
Global Health Narratives could be used in classroom lessons on health, geography, history, and world civilization. In the academic world, it is useful to those involved in folklore, medical anthropology, public health and social work, among other fields. The project is, overall, a useful and informative effort from Emily Mendenhall and others; the book is a rewarding (though slightly flawed) read and the website succeeds in expanding its interesting scope.