Review: What She Left Behind

January 23, 2014 1920's, 1930's, book review, Ellen Marie Wiseman, foster homes, Kensington, Mental Hospitals 6

Written By:  Ellen Marie Wiseman

Published By: Kensington December 31, 2013

Length: 336 pages

Source: Author in consideration of an honest review

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.(goodreads)

My Thoughts:
I’m speechless, this book is fiction but the story it tells and the horrors of mental health care in the early 20th century is appalling. So well researched and the words used make Clara and Izzy jump right off the page. Told in dual story lines, Clara lives in 1929 and when she introduces her boyfriend to her parents and they can’t see eye to eye and are forcing her into a marriage they have her committed to a home for the insane, private, quite posh. When the crash leaves her father in financial problems she is moved to a state run asylum. The horrors of Willard are unspeakable. 

Izzy lives in 1995, she is in foster care because her mother shot and killed her father, and her grandmother has died. Her foster parents work for a museum and they have been granted access to the now closed Willard State Asylum. A warehouse full of suitcases and trunks are being inventoried and Izzy is drawn to what is found in Clara’s trunk. She can’t wait to learn more.

I was  stunned reading about the journey Clara was on.  While control by her father wasn’t surprising, the ease at having her committed was frightening. In what seemed an instant she was gone, and her family just left her.  As the character of Izzy begins her personal search for more information about Clara I believe it heals her in ways she doesn’t realize.  While her foster parents are good to her she is timid and afraid that her place could be taken away from her at any time.  Ridiculed and bullied by the new local mean girl, Izzy is grasping a place to belong in very unlikely places.  

I admit I’ve had Ellen Marie Wiseman‘s first book, The Plum Tree on my shelf for over a year.  Why I didn’t get to it, I have no idea.  I was captivated by this books description and had to know more.  I am so happy to have found Ellen’s work, her writing is thoughtful and fluid.  Her characters are completely meshed out and developed.  I felt as if I was living in Clara’s nightmare, and in Izzy’s quest for answers.  
I highly recommend this book, I certainly won’t soon forget my time with Ellen’s work.  Looking forward to more!!  Please visit Ellen’s website or Pinterest page for this book, you’ll find more information about the things found at the real Willard State Asylum. 

6 Responses to “Review: What She Left Behind”

  1. Anita

    Anita, your reviews are so thorough and filled with a sense of you being a character in the book, which makes them so trustworthy. Keep up the good work!

  2. Michelle S

    Oh, oh, oh! How did I miss this one?!? Your review makes me regret passing it up AND makes me want to find it immediately and read it.

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