Published by Kensington, Tantor Audio on December 31st 2013
Genres: Literary Fiction
In this stunning new novel, the acclaimed author of THE PLUM TREE merges the past and present into a haunting story about the nature of love and loyalty—and the lengths we will go to protect those who need us most.
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 a 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.
Illuminating and provocative, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND is a masterful novel about the yearning to belong—and the mysteries that can belie even the most ordinary life.
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There are so many shocking examples of bad behavior in this book, it could have easily been subtitled “Man’s Inhumanity to Man”. Nevertheless, author Ellen Marie Wiseman chose to entitle her very moving novel What She Left Behind. And I don’t think it will be giving spoilers to say the response to that query would be “everything”. The deplorable conditions which were once the norm in public mental institutions are likely known to most. This heartbreaking story of one young girl who had the courage to defy her father in an age when women had very little power, will give you a glimpse at how far we’ve come in the care and treatment of the mentally ill. If this story took place today, a dozen acronym organizations would be bringing suit to release Clara Cartwright from the public asylum where she is falsely imprisoned. Running parallel to Clara’s story is the story of Izzy Stone, another young girl in another age, whose fear of inheriting the mental illness she believes her mother has prevents her from having a relationship with her only living relative. There is so much in this book that will touch your heart. The author does a brilliant job of portraying the sense of helplessness and despair Clara feels at her father’s treatment and her inability to escape her predicament. You will be incredulous that such a thing could have ever happened; yet, all you have to do is look at the injustice that is still a part of our world. You will ache for Izzy as she is bounced from home to home in the foster system only to find herself a victim of school bullies when she is finally placed with a couple she cares for and who cares for her.
This is a very emotional story, and I must say that narrator Tavia Gilbert captures all the anger, hopelessness, desperation, and even the love the author conveys. There is so much passion in her performance, listeners will have a hard time turning off What She Left Behind until the very end.
So. . .after I’ve said all that, would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Along with the mystery and suspense, as well as the downright cruelty, there are heartbreaking stories of self-sacrifice and love. I honestly thought I had this one figured out, but I was so wrong! I’ve been reading too many convoluted storylines, I suppose. I tend to forget, more often than not, the most logical ending really is the simple one. I appreciated the author spending some time at the end of the book acknowledging the areas where her story deviates from historical fact. I wouldn’t have caught the things she mentions, but there are those who would have, and it certainly authenticates Ms. Wiseman as an author that she took the time to do this. Authors who like to play fast and loose with history, take note! If you do listen to What She Left Behind, don’t despair. There is a very satisfying ending, even though it may not be the one you would have chosen.
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