The book...is startling, disturbing and terrifically readable. Using McCall’s saga as a narrative spine, Stern chronicles the nationwide network of laws and policies targeting prostitutes and any other woman whose alleged sexual activity made her a potential carrier of venereal disease ... The trial transcripts supply fine courtroom drama, but the story doesn’t end there. McCall lost her case, and Scott relates both her troubled adulthood and the fascinating debates over the American Plan that continued to roil for decades, both inside and outside the legal system. The Trials of Nina McCall is a consistently surprising page-turner, and at times I found myself wishing Stern had lingered over particular details ... Even so, his book is a brilliant study of the way social anxieties have historically congealed in state control over women’s bodies and behavior—at times with the complicity of medical authorities.
The end result is this meticulously researched, utterly damning work that lays out just what measures the United States government took to control women’s sexuality and autonomy—and how perfectly happy local officials and law enforcement were to go along with it ... The truths revealed in this book are truly shocking, and even more so because they are so little known. The culture of silence that has impacted sex workers for so long has finally begun to dissipate, but potent dangers remain ... One hopes the fact that more authors are now working to tell those stories means that more people will fight back.
It’s a shattering story. In his detailed, occasionally dense narrative, Stern (a 2015 Yale graduate who began his research in college) inculpates not just sexism and puritanical sexual policing, but racism, classism, xenophobia—and capitalism itself ... The emotional heart of the book, drawn in part from trial transcripts, is an account of how McCall, a small-town Michigan woman of Canadian and Scottish heritage, transformed herself from victim to resister ... The Trials of Nina McCall suggests that, in the face of misogyny and fear, the Constitution’s civil liberties and due process protections are flimsier than we dare acknowledge.