Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Life She Was Given... #BookReview

About the book:
From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets--beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn't allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She's never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it's for Lilly's own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time--and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents' estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers' Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus's biggest attraction...until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly's fate and her family's shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly's stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

Born with what some would call an anomaly or defect, Lilly is locked in an attic until her mother sells her to a circus sideshow. In the 1930s, those who were deemed different or deformed were often considered monsters. Many were ashamed that their child was different or not normal. PT Barnum was the first, I believe, to gather together these societal misfits and put them on display. For some, the circus life was all they knew and for others it was a horrific ordeal. Lilly's experiences in the circus aren't easy to read and abuse was rampant, but she found a life and love there as well. She tried to make the most of the life she was given as long as she was able to.

Julia's life mirrors Lilly's in some ways and as she discovers more about who the mysterious young girl in the photos is, she learns about her own strengths and who she is.

Some books are easy to read, enjoyed and then forgotten. Other books are difficult and you have to muddle your way through them and force yourself to continue. And then there are books that tug at your heartstrings and make you think and ponder as you continue reading what should simply be defined as plot and characters, but what is really a study of life and human behavior.

While mostly Lilly's story, the movement between both women's experiences strengthens their bond and enriches the novel. At times heart-wrenching, this is not always an easy story to read, but it is compelling and begs the reader to continue.

The story isn't inherently happy, but there are moments of hope and the title is appropriate for both Lilly and Julia. There is a mildly graphic instance of animal abuse that is central to a plot in the story.

Thanks to Netgalley and Kensington Books for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Ellen Marie Wiseman on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Read 10/17

* * * *
4/5 Stars