In her most powerful novel to date, New York Times bestselling author Ellen Marie Wiseman masterfully and viscerally evokes the real-life Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, New York, the state-run institution for children with disabilities that shocked the nation when it was exposed in the 1970s—more than a decade before it was finally shut down—for its horrendous abuses, neglect, overcrowding, unethical practices, and medical experiments. Taking readers behind the imposing doors of this notorious dumping ground for unwanted children, Wiseman’s gripping narrative conjures Girl, Interrupted meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by way of “Cropsey” in a harrowing yet moving story of social injustice, survival, and a young woman’s determination to find her sister…
People still search the woods for the remains of lost children.
With vivid writing, immediately absorbing characters, and surprisingly timely issues, Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a powerful tale of upheaval, resilience and hope amidst the tragic 1918 influenza: the seemingly apocalyptic illness that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population: In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded slums and the anti-immigrant sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army. But as her city celebrates the end of war, an even more urgent threat arrives: the Spanish flu. Funeral crepe and quarantine signs appear on doors as victims drop dead in the streets and desperate survivors wear white masks to ward off illness. When food runs out in the cramped tenement she calls home, Pia must venture alone into the quarantined city in search of supplies, leaving her baby brothers behind. On the same street, Bernice Groves has become lost in grief and bitterness since her baby died from the Spanish flu. Watching Pia leave her brothers alone, Bernice makes a shocking, life-altering decision that leads her on a sinister mission to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans”: Waking in a makeshift hospital days after collapsing in the street, Pia is frantic to return home. Instead, she is taken to St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum: the first step in a long and arduous journey to find her way back to her remaining family. As Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost in the months and years that follow, Pia must confront her own shame and fear, ultimately risking everything to see justice: and love: triumph at last.
From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s… On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow. More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl. At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction…until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last. Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.