Monday, March 14, 2011

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

WildthornFirst, quick congrats to Lexie, who won my copy of Inside Out. I think I'm caught up on e-mailing for addresses; it's been a backside-kicking couple of weeks, so I'm looking forward to getting books out the door!

Today, I have a book that I didn't manage to review when I first took a look at it, but I am completely glad that I finally read.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) drew me in with its close up of a corset. The image alone invokes a feeling, to me, of years past, of confinement, of rules, of formalities, of structured lives. Louisa Cosgrove, the book's heroine, wants none of it: she wishes to be a doctor--a school that will admit women has been opened in London. She's not particularly interested in making friends with the local girls, she abhors social visits, and she most certainly does not want to get married.

When we first meet Louisa, she thinks she's traveling to take up a position as a companion, but instead, she's taken to Wildthorn: an asylum for the insane, with all of the horrors of mid-1800s understanding and treatment. The staff calls her Lucy Childs, and Louisa struggles to keep the identity she's almost sure is hers while trying to figure out how she might, possibly, gain her freedom. Her present struggle is interspersed with memories from her past, such as the curiosity that had her dissecting a doll, her refusal to take on traditional female roles in her household, and, what Louisa fears was the thing that finally got her sent to the asylum, her romantic feelings for her cousin Grace. The present and past timelines eventually come into synchronization, and the focus turns to Louisa's increasing peril and the relationship she develops with Eliza, a girl who works at the asylum.

It seems like the sun never shines, literally and figuratively, for most of the book. Wildthorn is pretty intense--the descriptions of things that happen to Louisa while at the asylum are historical, but no less horrifying for temporal distance. The most frightening parts, for me, were the moments where I was acutely aware of Louisa's situation; an unknown person has her committed, there are locks on every door, no one trusts her, and worst of all, no one believes her. I also wondered if the author could find a way to give Louisa a happy ending--but I'm not about to give that part away!

Wildthorn is one of the most engaging books I've read this year. The review copy came from Houghton Mifflin via NetGalley. Thank you!


  1. I couldn't decide to read this based on mixed reviews from fellow librarians and bloggers, but now I'm considering to pick it up after reading your review. Thanks!

  2. hi! new GFC follower! love the blog and i'm excited to read more of your posts!

    follow me?!

  3. I can't wait to read this book. I heard about it a few months ago from another blogger. I had no idea women were sent to asylums because they wanted to be educated.

  4. @Rummanah Aasi: I was really impressed with the structure; I didn't think it was going to work out. It might help that I once was in a choir that did a study of a version of "A Maid in Bedlam" and we had a lot of debate about whether the "love" was real or not, alive or dead. There's some nifty info that we didn't address at We sang, but I sort of like too. (How much time did I just waste being a choir geek? So much...) Anyway, these sorts of stories grab me in a way that ghost stories grab other people, if that makes any sense.

    @LindsayWrites: Thanks! I will.

    @Jazz: You know, I don't know if I can confirm (or deny) that, but it's definitely one of the reasons Louisa thinks she might have ended up at Wildthorn. She has a lot of suspects and suspicions to untangle.


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