September 6th, 2010
Received from publisher
Wildthorn Hall is an asylum. Its residents are the mentally deficient, the forgotten, and the unwanted. Its galleries, save one, are dark, windowless, and full of female guards with an affinity for inflicting pain on those who cannot defend themselves. Louisa Cosgrove doesn't belong here. Shouldn't be here. She's not insane, she has a strained but still loving relationship with her mother, and she's supposed to be on her way to her new place of employment. There's been a mistake.
Everyone at Wildthorn says her name is Lucy Childs and she's merely deluded herself into thinking she's this Lousia Cosgrove. The doctors and staff members claim they have her best interests in mind, but as she's stripped of her valuables, clothes, and dignity, it becomes clear that to them she's just another girl come to join the ranks of lunacy.
Allies are few and far between, trust is not an option, and if she wants to prove her sanity, Louisa needs to get a look at the papers that confined her to this prison. Who could have done this? Why won't anyone listen? Who is Lucy Childs? Louisa must find the answers to all these questions and more before her mental and emotional strength is depleted by the barrenness of her circumstance, and she becomes nothing more than the simpering, mental invalid they already think her to be.
Ms. Eagland certainly knows how to write a compelling story. The misery and hopelessness of having one's own identity called into question is thoroughly haunting, and Louisa's fight to retain her sanity in the face utter oblivion pulls the heart strings to a new and shocking tautness. Written in the first person, the reader is often left alone with Louisa and her thoughts as conversation in the asylum is limited at best, forcing us to live every indignity, every injustice, every betrayal with her. Her pain is our pain. Her fears are our fears. And we wish that perhaps our strength might leak through the pages and buoy her as she drifts alone through uncharted waters.
If you're looking for a novel that's action-packed, this is not it. The beginning is a little slow as the story alternates between Louisa's past and present, but soon it evolves into an intellectual mystery at it's finest. A story where the reader must constantly question whether we can trust the thoughts to which we're privy. Louisa seems so certain she is who she says she is, and we're presented with multiple flashbacks of the events leading up to her institutionalization that seem to corroborate her story, but are those memories really hers? Is she really Louisa Cosgrove and this is all a mistake as we so desperately want to believe, or is she truly ill and these hints about her past are the creations of a mind with diminished capacity?
Louisa herself is beautifully written as a strong, proud, intelligent, and outspoken young women living in a time where women with intellectual abilities were shunned and treated as outcasts for daring to believe they might be equals of men. A time when excessive reading, when done by a female, was thought to lead to insanity and was wholly inappropriate for the fairer sex. Louisa pushes every boundary, refusing to adhere to the standard practices of society women, and that characteristic in conjunction with her unwavering strength in the face of a seemingly hopeless fate makes her a truly inspired protagonist.
Though not a dominant storyline by any means, some readers may be deterred by the exploration of a budding same-sex romance. Personally, I say those readers would be missing out on a character who isn't afraid to blur the lines of gender distinction in terms of occupation, sexuality, and place in society, and who chips away at established constructs with nothing short of an admirable confidence.
A beautiful, touching, and fascinating tale, Wildthorn should be added to your to-be-read pile as soon as possible.