Review: "What She Left Behind" by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Finally I've reached the next book on my winter reading list and I just can't wait to review it! As always, I offer a warning of possible spoilers as I work through my review of this book. I always make an effort to keep my spoilers minor, regardless, you've been warned. Here's a friendly little reminder of the summary of this book (as it appears on the back) for your convenience:

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 the 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.

Wiseman is very talented when it comes to detail, whether that's accuracy in describing the horrifying practices of old-time asylums or overall setting, Wiseman's writing will suck you right into the suspense and chilling world of suffering Clara Cartwright suffered through.

On the topic of Clara, she and Izzy share the entirety of the book, chapter by chapter. Izzy follows the trail Clara left behind and Wiseman tosses us right into the horrifying life Clara experienced. I've always loved this form of story telling, the present in one chapter while the past follows in the next. Seeing the two stories come together in the end is always rewarding and even a triumph, there's no exception to this in Wiseman's story.

I will admit, though I loved all of the characters in this book, I enjoyed Clara's side of the story a bit more. Perhaps it was entirely due to the tear-jerking acts of cruelty Clara endured, which encouraged from her an unfathomable amount of courage to endure as a result, while Izzy's story seemed a bit younger and more high school. Izzy was still a very likable character as well and admittedly earned a few tears from me along the way, but I would have to confidently say Clara's end of this story definitely earned more of my attention.

This by no means is a book that simply focuses on torture and the suffering of a young woman but rather, of a young woman's courage and another young woman's desire to see right done in the world. Its a story anyone would want to hear and even should. Overall, I adored this story and its ending most of all. Its an emotionally charged journey full of courage and the hope courage can bring.

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