Published by Katherine Tegen Books on October 6th 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Young Adult
Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.
This novel is set in historical, 19th century America and delves into the fine lines between what is normal versus what makes one insane. Set in a time where it takes very little to judge one mad, this book provides an enjoyable “whodunit” premise while making a subtler argument that social construct and empathy can sometimes be the only thing standing between an individual and a verdict of insanity.
Our main character Grace starts off in a very dark place. Imprisoned in an asylum in Boston, pregnant and mute due to the traumatic stress of actions that have occurred in her life, this novel makes one very glad to be living in the 21st century. Due to mishandling and rape triggers at the hands of the asylum director, things manage to get even worse for Grace when she finds herself “thrown away” into the cellars of the madhouse. This is where patients are sent away and forgotten about – the ones that dry up funding and need radical lobotomising in order to become suitable for the upstairs wards.
Things soon look up for Grace when she is befriended by Falsteed, a Dr in his own right who was locked up for reasons the reader will discover are most definitely bad, though is completely sane on all other levels and the sole reason Grace lives through the horrors of her first nights underground. Falsteed enlists the help of a visiting surgeon – Thornhollow who agrees to help rescue her in exchange for her services as his apprentice.
Thornhollow and Grace move into a new style “ethical” asylum where the staff treat the patients humanely and as the people they are. Here Grace is befriended by two girls and for the first time in her life starts to know happiness. As Thornhollow’s apprentice she is quickly embroiled in the study of criminology and the two of them become involved in a serial killer case.
This was a neat little historical thriller and while it suffered a bit with plot pacing problems, I overall really enjoyed the writing and our protagonist – Grace. My problem with this novel is that it had the potential to really get into the dark side of mental illness and social conformity however it seemed to just lightly skim the surface of these fascinating and explorative topics. I also felt the ended was taken possibly too far with the court case and could have very simply ended before it, things all seemed just a little too spelled out for my taste.
Overall this is a fun little murder mystery that I did enjoy and providing you aren’t looking for something deep and thought provoking I think this one is worth picking up.