My historical novels Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, colonial New England, travels, and whatever else seizes my fancy...

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Heartrending Window into Mental Illness

What She Left Behind
At seventeen, Izzy Stone has seen more than her share of family tragedy. One of her most horrific memories is seeing her mother, drugged into insensibility, in a psychiatric hospital. Even worse – Izzy’s mother was there because she had shot her husband to death when their daughter was only ten. Izzy would like nothing more than to live a ‘normal’ life, but floating from one foster home to the next has left her feeling adrift in the world, and bullying at her new school just makes it worse.

Willard State Asylum
The Willard State Asylum for the insane, now closed, stands near
Izzy’s new foster home. It will soon be demolished, and when Izzy’s foster parents are tapped to document the patients’ lives from what they left behind – suitcases, photographs, and diaries – they ask Izzy to help. The diary of Clara Cartwright, an eighteen-year old girl committed by her parents in 1930, for little more than willfulness, provides Izzy with a window into her own mother’s struggles, and ultimately transforms the girl’s life.

Ellen Marie Wiseman
Ellen Marie Wiseman has followed her best-selling debut novel, The Plum Tree, with another amazing tale of human resilience, What She Left Behind. Ms. Wiseman brings both her characters and the Willard psychiatric hospital to vivid life, sometimes uncomfortably so, and both Izzy and Ms. Wisemans’ readers come to question the nature of mental illness. Lest anyone think that the committal of Clara Cartwright for defying her parents is unbelievable, my grandmother-in-law was locked up in a mental institution in the 1930s merely for defying her husband. Horrific, but she survived, and her ordeal provided me with hope for Clara as well. I highly recommend What She Left Behind, and wonder what treat Ellen Wiseman has in store for us next!

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