I picked this one up in the mad dash for galleys at ALA in June. A corset on the cover, a story of mistaken identity in a 19th century asylum, I figured it was worth a shot - even if it has the cheesiest tagline ever on the cover. "Treachery locks her away. Love is the key." Ignore that, it gets much better!
Louisa Cosgrove is a young woman of privilege. Her father is a respected doctor and encourages his daughter's precocious and inquisitive mind. Her mother is disappointed she doesn't have a more traditional daughter, and her older brother is jealous of the time Louisa gets to spend with her father as they bond over their shared passion for medicine.
Louisa's luck changes after her father's death. Her brother, now the man of the house, forbids Louisa from furthering her education. Her mother falls into a devastating depression. Louisa's only reprieve is when she visits her beautiful cousin, Grace, but even that will soon be taken from her, as Grace is preparing for her wedding. When Louisa's brother finds a companion position for her with the family of a friend, Louisa takes the opportunity, if only to escape the heartaches of home.
But Louisa never arrives at the home of the Woodvilles. Instead, she's dropped off at Wildthorn, an insane asylum where they insist she is Lucy Childs. Louisa - or is it Lucy? - is stripped of her belongings, forced to face indignities like being locked in a bathtub in the dark and drugged whenever she tries to argue with the staff. Only Eliza, one of the assistants, shows a hint of compassion for Louisa, and the pair form an unlikely bond as Louisa plots her escape.
Eagland paints a terrifying picture of a 19th century asylum. Abusive and untrained staff severely hinder the healing process for the patients thought curable. Worse staff and egregious conditions condemn those thought to be incurable (or just too difficult for other people to work with). Louisa's plight in the asylum was especially terrifying for me, since not being believed is one of my worst fears (outside of things that could actually kill me. Like bees). Since the book is set before people were carrying IDs with them all the time, it's easy to see how a new identity could be quickly created - but Eagland also does a good job of making us question Louisa's mental state. There are just enough hints at some potentially traumatic incident in Louisa's past that had me wondering if she really was Lucy Childs and she'd created an alternate personality in Louisa Cosgrove.
Now about that tagline. It's not only cheesy, but it's misleading, since the romance plays only a small part in the story, and doesn't even appear until near the end. Now I can't say I'm entirely disappointed in it, because surprisingly it's a lesbian romance (no mention of that in the jacket copy!), and I'm never going to say we need fewer lesbians in YA lit, but at the same time this one never quite rang true for me. By making Louisa a lesbian, it falls dangerously close to lesbian stereotypes: she's an uppity 19th century woman with an interest in masculine sciences like medicine, of course she's a lesbian. As I'm a fan of stories that eschew the "rule" that all books need a romance, I would have preferred Louisa to be a solitary character who simply formed strong friendships (and if readers wanted to read some subtext into those relationships, I would totally encourage them!).
Wildthorn was released yesterday, September 6th (Labor Day in the US). Picked up ARC for review at ALA.