The Life She Was Given, by author, Ellen Marie Wiseman is a fictional account of the traveling circuses of the 1930’s. The author extensively researched the subject to the point where it nearly overwhelmed the story.
However, the writing was very good and I was thoroughly engaged for most of the novel. While I’m not a fan of spoilers, there will be one here because I feel it is only fair to the reader.
The novel involves two young women decades apart, but are linked by a mysterious and tragic past. Julia Blackwood returns home to inherit her families’ horse farm. Her parents’ kept a secret that was monstrous. The secret was about another girl, a daughter named Lily. The novel transitions from the past to the near present as Julia seeks to learn more about the mystery. The mystery involves Lily, a beautiful child who was born an albino. The mother kept her locked in the typical Victorian attic her entire young life. At the age of seven, the mother sells Lily to a traveling circus.
Lily goes from the attic prison to another sort of prison. She is owned by a brutal circus boss who uses Lily’s gift with people and her affinity for animals for years to add to his own fortune. She is kept penniless and in fear of being sent to an asylum, as was common in those days for people with disabilities. But, she is befriended by other circus “freaks” and along the way falls in love with the young and handsome Cole who works with the circus elephants. Pepper is an extremely smart elephant, and is loved by both Lily and Cole, but tragedy strikes and Pepper is horribly murdered for protecting her offspring, Jojo. Cole and Lily try to save Pepper, but both are brutalized by the circus owners.
In the end, the mystery is solved, but the ending for Lily is so brutal and so gut wrenching, I was shocked and sickened. While I don’t need happy endings, I expect, in fiction at least, a more humane ending. I rate the ending as a horror story. So, while it is an interesting story, I say, reader be forewarned.
The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
The Writing is simply brilliant and incredibly imaginative.
Faith Sunderly is a young girl coming of age during the late Victorian era, so this is not your average coming of age novel. This is a time when photography itself is coming of age as is the new branch of the investigative sciences of anthropology and archeology . Darwin’s, On the Origin of the Species has shocked the ideological realm of religion. It is a new world threatening the long held belief that man inherited the world from God with all his fingers and toes place.
Faith’s father, the Right Reverend Sunderly is not only a man of God, but also dabs in the science of the Natural World. His goal is to disprove Darwin’s theory. Unknown to his daughter, Faith and family, he found a dark and mysterious Tree that is said to hold the truth of everything; it puts forth the fruit of knowledge, but only if it hears lies and the liar must present the world with this lie. The lie must be of enormous consequence. He does this by fostering a great archeological fake onto society, and as he is a man of impeccable reputation, it is taken on faith by other famous archeologists. However, the fake is soon discovered and his reputation is sullied and a great scandal ensues.
He and his family are force to flee the scandal, and they are given refuge on an island where they are not well received because of the scandal. Yet, on the island there are others who want the tree and will do anything to get it, including murder. When Faith’s father dies under mysterious circumstance, she is sure it is murder. She is not your average prim and proper young lady of the times. She is clever, and smart and incurably curious, but she must pretend to be simple minded, as all women of the time were thought to be or risk being scorned by society or worse, by being placed in a sanatorium for the mentally unstable which was quite common back then. But she is determined and uses her wiles and her guiles to ferret out the murderer at great risk to herself.
Frances Hardinge has crafted a thrilling and page turning mystery that gets the heart thumping and the pages turning. The writing is gorgeous and the reader is easily transported into the era. I highly recommend this wondrous novel for any age group, but especially to girls coming of age and to those who want a better understanding of the injustices women endured for centuries.