For The Someday Book

Book Review: What She Left Behind

Posted on: July 17, 2015

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman, Kensington Books, 2014, 328 pp.

What She Left BehindI am a little behind (alright, a LOT behind) in writing reviews of books I’ve read. Consequently, I can share that this is the first of three books that fall into the category of light summer reading. All were hand-me-downs, all were read in under 24 hours, all were “chick lit” in every stereotypical way, none were exceptionally good, all were just what I needed for escape.

What She Left Behind is a novel inspired by the Willard Suitcase Project, a collection of patient suitcases from the Willard Asylum for the Insane in New York, which operated from the mid-nineteenth century until 1995. When the asylum closed, an attic room was discovered full of suitcases with personal items patients brought with them. They have been preserved in a museum, and photographer Jon Crispin has been assembling an exhibit of photographs of their contents. I had seen articles about the project, and recognized the story line immediately.

Wiseman’s fictionalized account interweaves the story of Isabelle “Izzy” Stone, a teen in foster care whose mother was committed for murdering her father, and Clara Cartwright, a woman committed to Willard at the age of 18 in 1929. Izzy becomes involved with the suitcase project and discovers Clara’s belongings. She reads Clara’s journal and discovers that she appears to be as normal as Izzy herself. lntrigued, Izzy tries to discover what happened to Clara at Willard. Izzy’s research into Clara’s story helps her come to terms with her own. Meanwhile, in interspersed chapters, we hear Clara’s story as it unfolds. It is a tale of horror and injustice, with details about the history of cruelty in our historic mistreatment of those labeled mentally ill. However, I found Clara’s character so clearly fictional and two-dimensional, that I was able to read through more easily that I perhaps should have.

Clara, Izzy and the other characters in the story are not especially complex or deep. They act in expected ways without much beyond stereotypes. The story has some good twists and turns, but it is not unpredictable or packed with breathtaking turns of phrase. It’s just a good story, entertaining and emotional and interesting. The setting at Willard adds an interesting dimension. This book won’t change your life, but you’ll enjoy the time you spend with it. That’s just what good summer reading is all about.

Advertisements

2 Responses to "Book Review: What She Left Behind"

[…] qualifies as book #2 in the “light summer reading.” As far as I know, I’ve never read an Anna Quindlen novel before. They always struck […]

[…] recent reads What She Left Behind, Orphan Train and Orphan #8, this novel begins in the author’s discovery of a little-known […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.

RevGalBlogPals

NetGalley

Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,630 other followers

%d bloggers like this: