This is a superbly written fictional account of what life in late 19th Century England could have been like for a young woman. The author uses “flashbacks” to provide depth to the main character and also to set-up the conflicts that are pivotal to the story. The amount of research that the author did is clearly seen in the care that she took with making this story believable.
The story begins with a carriage ride in which a young woman, Louisa Cosgrove, is being taken to a home where she believes that she will begin a new chapter in her life. She believes that she is being taken to be the female companion to her brother’s friend’s sister. She is accompanied by a woman that she doesn’t know, because as a single woman society dictated that she not travel alone and the woman is apparently an acquaintance of her brother’s friend. The adventure really begins when she arrives at her destination, which turns out not to be the home of a wealthy family as she had been told but is a place called “Wildthorn Hall”, an insane asylum. Things get more complicated for Louisa when the administrator at this “home”, Mr. Sneed, insists on telling her that her name is not Louisa Cosgrove but that she is “Lucy Childs” and that she is suffering from some kind of illness. Mr. Sneed then places Louisa in the care of a female “guardian” names Ms. Weeks.
The things that happen to Louisa while she is at “Wildthorn Hall” are horrific. She is force fed sedatives and her activities are controlled and monitored. Throughout the story we are provided a series of flashbacks that give us insight to Louisa’s life prior to her commitment. Each flashback follows a very strong scene that depicts the horrors of what life was like in an insane asylum for someone who was in actuality mentally alert. Yet, it is while she is at “Wildthorn Hall” that she also forges a relationship that in the end will be her salvation, she becomes friends with one of the young female “guardians”, Eliza, who begins to question everything that is being done to the “patients” and why someone like Louisa is being forced to stay.
Louisa realizes thru her flashbacks what actions in the past have contributed to her current situation and faces the cruel reality that family members that she has loved and admired for years have betrayed her. With help she is able to escape from “Wiildthorn Hall” and able to piece together what has happened to her and to her family. She then takes the necessary steps to right the injustices in her life and we see the real strength that forges the woman that Louisa will become.
The publisher has stated that this book is for young adults but I actually think that it might be a little too intense for anyone under the age of 17. The reality is that the situations in this book take place prior to women’s suffrage in England and pinpoint that women had no rights. What happens to Louisa was more than likely completely historically accurate for some women and makes me very, very happy to be a woman that was born post suffrage and the women’s liberation movement. The situations that take place in “Wildthorn Hall” are also historically accurate in their depiction of what care in a mental facility would have been like and are very intense. This book reminded me of how important it is that our society as a whole treats everyone with respect. We must make sure that no one is subjected to the indignities of the past.