Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
YA Historical Fiction
September 6, 2010
Hardcover, 359 Pages
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: "The light goes out in the room. I’m in the dark again. The fear is waiting.”
Louisa never imagined that a simple trip to her new position as a governess would end with her institutionalized against her will. As she is stripped of her possessions and identity, Louisa attempts to maintain her sanity all while trying to solve the mystery of how and why she was there.
Louisa Cosgrove is a young woman born to privilege in the 19th century. Her unconventional attitude and desires often vexes and embarrasses her family. She blatantly disregards her expected role as a proper young woman; disdaining marriage, conducting experiments, and voicing her opinions on being a Doctor.
When her father, whom was her staunchest ally, suddenly passes away, Louisa is horrified to learn that her brother Tom has no intentions of allowing her to "shame the family" by attending medical school. Tom further hurts her by telling her that their mother feels she is not helping enough and a position has been secured for her as a governess to another family. Though she doesn’t want to leave home, she does as he bides. When she arrives at Wildthorn, an insane asylum, she is bewildered to be addressed as Lucy Childs. Any attempts to explain her real name or obtain reasons for why she is there are fostered off as being a condition of her "illness." Louisa soon learns that she has arrived in Hell and there is no escape.
Wildthorn is an emotionally stirring story viewed through the eyes of a frightened seventeen year old. She has been cast into a strange, horrifying place with no explanation and despairs at thinking her family has done this to her. Filled with intrigue and suspense, Ms Eagland does a wonderful job of educating us to the social expectations of women in the 19th century and the injustices they faced when they did not follow their mandated roles. In her clear conversational writing style, we are able to experience Louisa’s thoughts and emotions as if we are there with her. The story flows smoothly and I did enjoy the integration of Louisa’s "memories" with current situations. Her vivid and heart wrenching descriptions of the conditions and methods use in asylums during this period in time stick with you long after the last page is turned.
I found Louisa to be an breath of fresh air. Opinionated, strong, and very independent; her personality shines through as she is continuously tested and condemned through out the story for choosing to be herself. Tom, her brother, is the ideal male "heir”. Selfish and egotistical; his treatment of Louisa shows a foreshadowing to what his life will become. Through Louisa’s female family members we learn what is considered proper and acceptable behavior and the fear that Louisa causes with her behavior.
As Louisa continues to fight her way out of madness and the asylum, the mystery is slowly yet satisfyingly resolved. Ms. Eagland’s flare for misdirection becomes apparent as we discover, with Louisa, the misconceptions she has held concerning members of her family and the results when the truth is revealed.
The romance interwoven through out the book is tastefully done and brings a certain lightheartedness to the story. Ms Eagland does a wonderful job of vocalizing a young woman’s feelings and desires concerning a taboo subject for that time period. I was surprised however by the down play of it in the end when all is revealed and how tidy it was all wrapped up.
Even though Wildthorn does start out rather slow as we journey with Louisa through her memories, it picks up and grips you in the second half till the very end. All in all Wildthorn tells a beautiful and thought provoking story that will have readers thinking about it long after they are done.