The term “Easy Read” is subjective to the individual reader. What one reader might define as an “easy read”, another might mark as a “hard read”. It was agreed by everyone in the Great Reads Book Club that What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman was not an easy read. Despite the fact that Wiseman possesses an undisputed talent for narrating a good story, the topic under examination is not an easy one.
Wiseman wanted to tell a story of what happens to different people admitted to mental institutions. She accomplished this through two storylines. The first is of Izzy Stone, who grew up without a mother because she was in prison for shooting Izzy’s father ten years prior. Traveling from one foster home to another, Izzy was forced to become self-reliant from her early years. Now, Izzy is seventeen and her new foster parents have asked for Izzy’s help in cataloguing abandoned belongings in a local, deserted mental asylum. While working, Izzy discovers Clara Cartwright’s personal journal, which gives Izzy a new purpose in life.
The second plot line tells us a story of Clara Cartwright’s appalling experiences in a mental asylum. Clara was 18 in 1929, when her conservative father arranged a marriage for Clara with a man she did not love. Clara rejects the proposal and her furious parent sends her to a public asylum, in order to convince Clara to change her mind. Clara’s experiences in the asylum are truly awful and some readers might find those parts hard to read. One of the biggest points that sparked up an excellent conversation in the book club was doctor’s authority over patient’s body. Is it ok for a doctor to make any sort of changes to his patient’s body just because he is considered to be a professional or can a patient reject doctor’s orders?
What She Left Behind can be considered a historical novel, for a large portion of the story is unveiled in the past through the eyes of Clara Cartwright. However, the novel can appeal to readers of fiction set in present times. There is a plethora of topics in the book, relevant to today’s world and its problems, like abusive relationships, motherly interference in child’s growth, bullying, women’s rights, professional authority, and birth control. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys leisurely-paced, character-driven, thought-provoking literary fiction and schemes of parallel narratives.