“The Healthiest Girl in Town” is one of the stories based on Stafford’s years in Colorado. It is set in 1924 in a Western town whose principal industry is “tuberculars,” that is, people who have come there hoping for a cure for tuberculosis or, at least, for an extension of their lives. Naturally, the town is dominated by anecdotes of sickness and death. In this atmosphere, Jessie, the eight-year-old narrator, feels like an outsider. Blessed with a strong constitution and sensibly raised by her widowed mother, a practical nurse, Jessie cannot manage to get interestingly ill.
This problem becomes acute when she is thrown into the society of two spoiled, sickly girls, Laura and Ada Butler. Although she despises them on sight, Jessie is forced to play with them because her mother has a new position nursing the senile grandmother of the family.
The Butler girls seem to want Jessie at their home merely so that they can have someone to torment. They comment on her mother’s inferior position and suggest that Jessie’s own low status in society is proven by the fact that she has no ailments. Finally, they inquire into the death of Jessie’s father. Although it was gangrene that killed him, Jessie is inspired to say that the cause of his death was leprosy. Immediately, she realizes that she is trapped. If she admits that she lied, the girls will never let her forget it, but if she sticks to her story, she is firmly convinced that both her...
(The entire section is 429 words.)