Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

“‘I told you, that isn’t my name.  I am Louisa Cosgrove. And I’m not meant to be here.  There’s been a mistake.’

He pauses…then turns to read the page of cramped writing I can see inside the folder.

It suddenly occurs to me-perhaps they’re pretending they don’t know who I am. Perhaps they’re trying to drive me mad.

I take a deep breath. ‘I’m not mad, Doctor.  You can see that, so-‘”

There’s been a terrible mistake. Instead of being driven to a manor where she was to begin her position as a companion, Louisa is taken to Wildthorn Hall, an asylum.  They call her Lucy and interpret her every protest as further evidence of her illness.  But who had her committed? More importantly, how can she get out? Does her family really believe she belongs here? Or worse, is it possible that they do not even know where she is?

Amidst the groans and suffering of her fellow patients, Louisa recalls her outside life.  True, perhaps she read more than was considered seemly for young women, and her ambition to become a doctor was certainly unconventional.  But moral insanity? Surely having dreams of something other than a husband and family does not amount to an illness!  In order to save her life and be united with her love, Louisa stages a risky escape attempt.  But on the outside, there are many dangers for a young woman, and it seems her troubles have just begun.

I did absolutely nothing today but finish this book; I got it yesterday night.  First, it’s about time we have some good queer historical fiction! Even better, this is a queer story that doesn’t revolve around a coming out. Louisa, from her childhood on, has preferred science to sewing and riding horses to making calls.  However, she is not committed to the asylum because she is a lesbian, rather, because she exhibits unfeminine characteristics and ambitions for her time.  In this way, the book is an interesting commentary on the restrictive expectations for women in nineteenth-century England.

For those of you looking for a love story, don’t worry.  It’s there, it is sweet, and it defies the bleakness of the novel’s setting.  For a young adult book that reads like the lovechild of The Well of Loneliness and Jane Eyre, the tender romance is refreshingly hopeful, but not wildly so.  It is not so perfectly constructed that it seems unrealistic, but it is a lovely surprise!  I’ve been waiting to read this book for a long time, and I couldn’t have ordered a more perfect compilation of everything I love in a read-for-pleasure book. I haven’t been this happy since I discovered Sarah Waters. Oh, and one more awesome thing-this novel is based on a true story (Seriously. Isn’t that awful?  We should all be welling over with gratitude for our feminist predecessors, because now we don’t have to worry about being tossed in an asylum because we were inconveniently un-feminine.)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website (look, she has another book out!): http://www.janeeagland.com 

Eagland, Jane. Wildthorn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 349 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book because of the historical setting, you might like the classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Older readers looking for lesbian love stories set in Victorian England will go crazy over Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.  For a fantasy featuring girls who fall in love, try Malinda Lo’s Huntress.  Creepy gothic feel? Try A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray! And for a French medieval trilogy about assassin nuns (ok, not technically related to England or asylums or lesbians), I’ve been wanting to read Grave Mercy. It looks fantastic!

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How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

“If you haven’t been in a war and are wondering how long it takes to get used to losing everything you think you need or love, I can tell you the answer is No time at all.”

Daisy is fifteen, and has been exiled from her Manhattan home by her father and pregnant stepmother.  She won’t eat, and no amount of expensive therapists and treatment can unravel the snarl of her eating disorder.  With that, and the new baby on the way, her family was overwhelmed, and sent her to stay in England with her cousins.

England is lush and beautiful, and the country house where her cousins live is shelter to goats, chickens, and other livestock.  They live rather unconventional lives, direct their own homeschooling, and get by with minimal supervision (though lots of love) from their mother, Daisy’s aunt.

It’s all lovely, until the War.  England is attacked, no one is sure who The Enemy is, and people run out of medicine and food. There are power failures and rationing.  There is mass panic and confusion.  In the middle of it all, Daisy’s paradise becomes a nightmare.  The cousins are separated, and survival is their only focus.

I can’t rave about this book enough.  It’s brutal and shocking at times-I turned my face from the pages during some sections.  However, that brutality is juxtaposed with lyrical descriptions of love and beauty.  Daisy’s voice is spot-on, realistic and absolutely compelling.  Furthermore, it has a timeless quality, which I think distinguishes good books from excellent books.  What I mean is, the book doesn’t seem tied down to a particular era.  The Enemy is unnamed and unknown.  While it is set in modern times, there are few pop culture references to burden this book and make it inaccessible to readers thirty years from now, and it addresses issues that will always be of concern: love, war, family, and fear.  Rosoff’s use of language (no quotation marks, capitalization of important words for emphasis, and Daisy’s unique voice) is incredible, as well: not intrusive, but crafted to direct readers’ minds to the sort of fear-inducing media techniques that are so common today.

This has been made into a radio program, and I will try my hardest to find a link to it.  In the meantime, please find this book and read it. It won the Printz Award, the Guardian Award (which is similar to the U.S. Newbery Medal) and was nominated to win the U.K. Carnegie Medal (for outstanding YA or children’s lit).  And I put it on the All Time Awesome-est list.  Want to hear something else amazing?  Yeah, this is Meg Rosoff’s first novel.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/

Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2004. 194 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you like this, I think you will also like Nothing  by Janne Teller.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

“1. Why would you kill a dog?

a) Because you hated the dog.

b) Because you were mad.

c) Because you wanted to make Mrs. Shears upset.

2. I didn’t know anyone who hated Wellington, so if it was (a) it was probably a stranger.

3. I didn’t know any mad people, so if it was (b) it was also probably a stranger.

4.  Most murders are committed by someone who is known to the victim…This is a fact.  Wellington was therefore most likely to have been killed by someone known to him.

5. If it was (c) I only knew one person who didn’t like Mrs. Shears, and that was Mr. Shears, who knew Wellington very well indeed.”

This is a fabulously popular murder mystery, written by Mark Haddon, in the voice of Christopher, a fifteen  (and three months and two days) year old.  The dog next door has been killed during the night, and he sets out to do some detective work, like his idol, Sherlock Holmes.  He talks to the neighbors (even though his father forbids it) and gathers evidence, and eventually uncovers something that takes his life in a surprising new turn.

Christopher has special needs: he doesn’t like to be touched, the color yellow, or foods that touch each other.  He likes prime numbers, the color red, and similes (but not metaphors).  Sometimes navigating the world is difficult for him, and to be honest, it’s not the mystery part of this book that’s amazing: it’s Christopher’s voice.  He’s unfailingly honest (lies make him nervous), and his perspective is disarming and endearing, occasionally pitiable.

I’m a little behind the game with this book: I picked it up a few years ago, and was horrified by the murdered dog on page 5, and then dropped it.  But this time, I’m on vacation, and read through my six day book supply in the first two days, so I had to start in on my mom’s books.  I held my breath, and once I got past poor Wellington’s death, I fell in love with Christopher and his view of the world.

This book has won over seventeen awards, but I’ve been having trouble finding a complete list.  I do know it’s an Alex award recipient, which is the prize for books written for adults that have a special appeal for young adults.   It’s short and really engaging: a great way to spend an afternoon, especially if you are a fan of prime numbers, awesome diagrams, dogs, Sherlock Holmes, and unconventional narrators.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.markhaddon.com/

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Vintage Books: New York, 2003. 224 pp. Grades 10-up.