Book Club July 2015

This month’s book club book was picked by Denise. The book is What She Left Behind.

By: Ellen Marie Wiseman
Published Year: 2013
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 336

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Summary (Provided by Goodreads): In this stunning new novel, the acclaimed author of THE PLUM TREE merges the past and present into a haunting story about the nature of love and loyalty—and the lengths we will go to protect those who need us most.

Ten years ago, Izzy Stone’s mother fatally shot her father while he slept. Devastated by her mother’s apparent insanity, Izzy, now seventeen, refuses to visit her in prison. But her new foster parents, employees at a local museum, have enlisted Izzy’s help in cataloging items at a long-shuttered state asylum. There, amid piles of abandoned belongings, Izzy discovers a stack of unopened letters, a decades old journal, and a window into her own past.

Clara Cartwright, eighteen years old in 1929, is caught between her overbearing parents and her love for an Italian immigrant. Furious when she rejects an arranged marriage, Clara’s father sends her to a genteel home for nervous invalids. But when his fortune is lost in the stock market crash, he can no longer afford her care—and Clara is committed to the public asylum.

Even as Izzy deals with the challenges of yet another new beginning, Clara’s story keeps drawing her into the past. If Clara was never really mentally ill, could something else explain her own mother’s violent act? Piecing together Clara’s fate compels Izzy to re-examine her own choices—with shocking and unexpected results.

                                                     First Impressions

The summary, when it was read to me, sounded really interesting. I liked the idea of two stories that have a parallel even though they’re decades apart. However, the cover is so beyond boring. Like, to the point that even though I knew I needed to read this book for book club I couldn’t get myself to open it. Even though the summary was intriguing, I wouldn’tve picked up this book on my own.

                                                      What I thought

This book was good. It was better than I thought it was going to be, but it’s not a new favorite.

What She Left Behind follows Izzy and Clara. Izzy is a foster child in the 1990s. He mother killed her father when she was 8 and is in prison, so Izzy has been in the foster care system for almost 10 years. Clara is a young woman in the 1920s who has been committed to a mental hospital by her parents. Izzy believes that her mother was insane when she killed her father and worries that she will become insane as well. When she visits the Willard’s insane asylum with her foster parents to complete research, she finds Clara’s trunk and journal and becomes interested in her story.

The perspectives change from chapter to chapter. It starts with Izzy’s story and then switches to Clara’s. I found Clara’s story to be very interesting. When I was reading her chapters, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I don’t want to say that I enjoyed her chapters because the majority of her story is horrible, but I don’t know how else to say it. I didn’t enjoy Izzy’s story as much. I found that what got me through her story was wanting to get to the next chapter of Clara’s story.

Clara’s story was sad but fascinating. Even though I thought I knew what was going to happen next, there were a few twists I didn’t expect. Izzy’s story seemed immature and almost written by another author. I found her to be annoying and even though I felt like I was supposed to sympathize with her, I didn’t. If this story had been all about Clara I think I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more.

It’s a little disturbing reading how the mental hospitals in the early 20th century were run, but it makes me thankful for how far we’ve come. I don’t feel like I can say too much about this book, because I don’t feel like much happened. Like I’ve said, Clara’s life story was interesting but nothing happened in Izzy’s story other than to move Clara’s along. There wasn’t much more to the plotline other than a girl being committed to a mental hospital by her parents, even though she was perfectly sane. 

It’s an interesting book. I wish there was a little bit more to it. Even though there was a lot of craziness, I still walked away from the book feeling like it was boring. There are definitely some positives, but overall it was a bit of a miss for me. I’d recommend it as a book club book because it is an easy read and there are a lot of talking points. I wouldn’t re-read it, and therefore wouldn’t purchase it for my shelves.

                                                                             What Book Club Thought

I think that I was probably the one who liked the book the least. It was interesting because Meghan had the opposite thought from me with the beginning of the book. She felt as though Izzy’s chapters were interesting and Clara’s were very blah. However, she agreed that once she got to the middle of the book she preferred Clara’s chapters to Izzy’s. We all felt as though Izzy was just a means to an end to get to Clara and that we could’ve either done without her, or wished that there was more to her story to feel like it had a point.

                                                            Poignant Questions

What did you think of how Clara was treated in the asylum?

What did you think of Izzy’s past? Was is necessary to the story?

If you grew up in the 1920s, do you think (as a woman) you would have gone along with what your parents told you to do, or would you have rebelled like Clara?

What did you think of Clara’s parents’ decision to send her to the asylum and then leave her there?