I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2010-09-06
Genres: Europe, Historical, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Buy the Book • Goodreads
They strip her naked, of everything—undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn't she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . . Originally published in the UK, this well-paced, provocative romance pushes on boundaries—both literal and figurative—and, do beware: it will bind you, too.
I am very embarrassed to admit that an ARC of Wildthorn has been sitting in my house unread since 2010. I think most normal bloggers take review copies that have been on their pile that long and cull them because if you aren’t interested enough to read the book within four years of receiving it, what’s the point? However, I have this enormous guilt complex and because it’s from my very first BEA, I made myself FINALLY read the book over the course of two days. It turns out, I was really missing out by not reading Wildthorn by Jane Eagland. This is a smart, well-written historical fiction young adult book that features a main character who happens to be a lesbian. It’s not a coming out book! I was so into this book, it was so different from the other books on my pile and I have to admit, I love the variety. I love how refreshing this book was.
Louisa Cosgrove is taking the train to be a governess for the Woodville family. She’s a bit leary of her traveling companion, but figures that she’ll be fine once she gets to the Woodville estate. After exiting the train, she comes across a grand house with huge grounds. This house is to be her new home. Unfortunately, what Louisa has assumed to be the Woodville estate is actually Wildthorn Hall, an insane asylum for women. There, Louisa is told that her name is Lucy Cousins. She’s confined to a specific gallery where no one believes her about her name. Louisa is terribly confused as to why she is at Wildthorn Hall. Coupled with this confusion is that she witnesses atrocities committed against other residents of Wildthorn by a woman named Weeks.
However, there is one bright spot and that is Eliza, a fresh faced farm girl who is working at Wildthorn as an attendant. Eliza believes Louisa and she might just be the one chance Louisa has to escape. Friends, Eagland’s book is a nightmare in that I was reading it and finding myself more and more enraged for Louisa and just totally rooting for her the entire time. Like, I was gripping this book to find out who was responsible for committing Louisa/Lucy and what the reasoning was. I have to say — it’s quite the shock and I loved every minute of overwhelming emotions provided by this book.
As readers, I think many of us would be able to relate to Louisa. She’s what is called a bluestocking meaning that she’s so into learning and books in a time when women were supposed to be into domesticity and hearth and home. Louisa does not have the options that are available to us. I mean, in her flashbacks we see that her father encourages her to learn about medical practice despite it being fairly uncommon for women. However, her brother Tom and her mother do not encourage Louisa. What I like about Louisa is that even though she’s been betrayed several times over, she’s got a big heart. She doesn’t decide to wall herself off just because she’s been hurt. She’s very resilient and determined. I like that a lot. Also, Louisa explores her sexuality in Wildthorn. Early on and repeated throughout the book, she proclaims that she will never get married and will never take on a husband. We see, slowly, that Louisa is attracted to females. She acts on her attraction once, and she thinks this is why, perhaps, she has been committed to Wildthorn Hall. I have to admit, I was dreading what I figured would be a dreary, sad ending for Louisa, but instead, there’s just so much hope. It really buoys the book up. Seriously, if you want to read LGBTQ young adult that’s different from the pack, pick this book up.
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland is divided into various parts. The first part deals with her entering the asylum and getting used to life there. It shows how, in a series of flashback chapters, Louisa grows up and how she finds herself along a life course where she ends up in the asylum. I really liked the bits where we see Louisa’s past. I liked getting to know her family dynamics and the commentary on gender during this time period. This is a book that just made me so mad on behalf of the main character, because how women had little agency and because if a woman shows a bit of moxie then clearly she’s hysterical. Straight up, this book is kind of old at this point in the game but it’s really, really good. If you’ve missed out on it when it first came out, well, I would recommend you pick it up now. I would recommend it especially if you’re in the mood for a different sort of book. Honestly, Wildthorn is not like anything I’ve read before — but full disclosure, I’ve seen it compared to Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and I have not read that one yet.