Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Literally the Best Reviews: The Life She Was Given

The Life She Was Given -- Ellen Marie Wiseman
314 Pages

Since the Lockport Library began the One Book, One County program, I’ve been to all but one of the programs. I eagerly await each year’s announcement, buy the book, read it, and go to the program. This year, The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman is the selection to be read and presented. As soon as I saw the books on sale at the library, I purchased my copy. It sat on the shelf for a few weeks before I cracked it open to be prepared in time for the presentation. I figured I’d finish the book in a couple of days. It took less.

When I opened The Life She Was Given, I had no idea how quickly the author would pull me into the world she had imagined. Nor, did I have a clue that I would be finished with this novel less than eight hours later. I simply could not put this book down. Yes, this is an odd review with my personal views right up front before I even discuss the book. This novel is that good. It gets the highest of my praise immediately.

Lilly Blackwood is the daughter of well-to-do parents who have locked her away from public scrutiny for what they perceive as a horrible disfigurement, especially her mother. In her lonely attic room with only her pet cat, Lilly stares out over the fields surrounding the Blackwood Manor wondering what it’s like out in the world. While her mother visits her to hopefully remember to feed her, it’s the visits with her father that brighten her days. Even if he keeps her locked in the attic, it seems to me the mother who is insistent upon keeping her a prisoner in her own home.

When her father is out of town for some time, it is Lilly’s mother who decides she has a solution to the “monstrosity” in the attic. A circus has been renting some of the manor grounds from the family. On the night before they are scheduled to leave, Mrs. Blackwood takes Lilly from her attic room for the first time. And sells the young girl to the circus.

Out of her attic prison for the first time, she discovers the world is not how she dreamed it. She must learn to fit in with not only the startling change to carny life, but also to realities of the world outside the window. As she comes to age with an adopted family, she can’t help but wonder why her father would let her be abandoned. Still, she finds love and a place, albeit a tenuous one among those who desire profit over humanity.

More than two decades later, Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate after the death of her mother. She returns to Blackwood Manor after being estranged from her family for several years. The walls hold secrets that she’s determined to find, and her hired help seems to want to block her ambitions through every step of the way. The house seems to want to keep its secrets well hidden, too.

The story switches back and forth between the lives of Lilly and Julia as their stories begin to move together into a common thread. In a rush to the end, you’re breathless as the stories finally converge. While the reader has likely figured out one key aspect at about the halfway point, the way Wiseman gets us there is exhilarating. The whole book is like that. You won’t what to stop reading at the end of each chapter.

Ellen Marie Wiseman writes an excellent novel that will keep you begging for more. Her quick prose makes it easy to stay focused on the world that she’s created. Her two, main characters are very well developed. Their struggles echo with the reality of the time and places visited in this book. I liked the characters as they grew in their roles. As always, the characters are very important for me when I'm reading a book. These characters are very sympathetic and true.

Ellen Marie Wiseman will be at the Lockport Public Library on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at 6:30pm. She will be discussing her book and signing copies of it. Come hear her stories and meet the author. I will be there.

Craig Bacon sometimes threatens to give his kids away to the circus. But most people already consider his house to be a circus.