What She Left Behind

What She Left Behind by - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 312 pages
Book Blurb:
Ten years ago, Izzy Stone’s mother fatally shot her father while he slept. Devastated by her mother’s apparent insanity, Izzy, now seventeen, refuses to visit her in prison. But her new foster parents, employees at a local museum, have enlisted Izzy’s help in cataloging items at a long-shuttered state asylum. There, amid piles of abandoned belongings, Izzy discovers a stack of unopened letters, a decades old journal, and a window into her own past.
Clara Cartwright, eighteen years old in 1929, is caught between her overbearing parents and her love for an Italian immigrant. Furious when she rejects an arranged marriage, Clara’s father sends her to a genteel home for nervous invalids. But when his fortune is lost in the stock market crash, he can no longer afford her care—and Clara is committed to the public asylum.
Even as Izzy deals with the challenges of yet another new beginning, Clara’s story keeps drawing her into the past. If Clara was never really mentally ill, could something else explain her own mother’s violent act? Piecing together Clara’s fate compels Izzy to re-examine her own choices—with shocking and unexpected results.
Illuminating and provocative, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND is a masterful novel about the yearning to belong—and the mysteries that can belie even the most ordinary life.
My Review: 4 stars
This book takes a staggering look into the asylums of earlier years and although quite dark at times, it was a reality of our American history and the power of which money and men had. The author had two very different story lines working and effortlessly seamed them together for a good novel. Izzy’s POV, the seventeen year old, read like a YA book which I thought was important and true to her age and thoughts. Clara’s POV was incredibly inspiring as she suffered silently through ice baths, insulin shock therapy, and confined spaces while she maintained her dignity. Guilt, betrayal, trust, foster care, what you believe is true vs. the truth, abuse, bullying and ultimately love are at the heart of this book. If you liked this book, I suggest you read Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall.
Note: You can check out photos from the Willard State Asylum at http://nysasylum.com/willard/index.htm.
Quotes I liked:
“But how many were victims of of circumstance, women left penniless by husbands who abandoned them or died, women who lost children and needed help coping with unbearable grief, women banished by parents who disapproved of their decisions? How many were at Willard because of a single angry outburst, or because they had grown old and been abandoned by their children, or had lost their parents at a young age and had grown up in an orphanage? How many were sane when they got here, but after months of abuse or overtreatment with ice baths and sedatives, would never be rational again?

Tags: 2014, Fiction, Historical Fiction, New York,

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