It’s daunting to sit here and try to put into words everything I experienced while reading this book. It’s a deeply thoughtful novel, and beautifully written, but at times I was so angry I didn’t know if I could keep reading. The stark reality—the inhumanity—of mental health “care” in generations past, not to mention the reasons some were subjected to such “care”, is painful knowledge to open yourself to, and that’s exactly what you will do when you read Brighton’s story. And yet, by the time I turned the final page, I felt as though I had been on a healing journey with Brighton. The heartache and the pain were no less real, but I truly felt as though the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, which Brighton also held onto, had been proven true: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
I think the only reason I was able to continue reading at some points was because of the way the story was structured. The story opens in the “present day”—which, for the purposes of this story, is 1990—when Brighton, or Nell as she is now known, is sixty-seven. From that very first chapter, the reader knows that she has been married for over forty years and had children of her own, “amending her own childhood through motherhood.” That knowledge is like St Francis’s single candle, shining forth its light as the next chapter moves back to 1937 and Brighton’s childhood.
The majority of the story is then told from Brighton’s point of view as she’s growing up in the asylum, but every few chapters the reader returns to the present, where some photographs and other items from Brighton’s childhood at the asylum have been unearthed and returned to her—quite unexpectedly. These chapters were a much needed respite from the weight of Brighton’s childhood, but as painful as parts of her story were, I was utterly transfixed and almost desperate to know how it unfolded, to know how she reached a point where she was able to escape the asylum, let alone marry. And as Brighton herself says, “The wrongs can’t be righted, but remembering and knowing are important. Without remembrance, there is often repetition.”
So while this is not a book you should pick up lightly, it is definitely a book you should pick up. All else aside, if anyone can bring beauty out of such a story, it is a writer the likes of Elizabeth Byler Younts, her prose full of imagery and emotional nuance that taps into the heart of human experience.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 11 hours and 26 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Thomas Nelson
- Audible.com.au Release Date: 22 October 2019
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B07PWY2XKM
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 66,293 in Audible (See Top 100 in Audible)