The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman– 304 pages
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.
My Review: 4 stars
The Life She Was Given completely opened my eyes to circus life in an entirely new way. Although I’ve never been to an actual circus, I’ve read about them in some great novels and seen them portrayed in movies and TV. This book took me into the circus sideshows, which I’m certain I’d never elect to see, so this was the ideal option. As I’m typing this, my husband, who has no idea what I writing about, just shared that today (5/21/17), was the last ever Ringling and Barnum and Bailey Circus ever to perform. Coincidence, or what?
With dual storylines that created a good mystery and a gripping plot, this book had a lot going for it. One storyline was about the so-called freaks in the sideshow of a circus, namely Lilly Blackwood. The other was from Julia Blackwood, who’s trying to unfold the secrets she unearths from the home she’d runaway from. This home, Blackwood Manor, actually holds all the pieces of the puzzle. If only it could speak.
Of course, the stories were woven together perfectly so that the reader knew they’d eventually connect, but never knew just how they’d mesh together. There were moments of the book that worked perfectly in fiction. I always fall for hidden attics, who lives there and why; it’s a perfect start to a novel. It’s always a treat when animals and characters connect on an almost psychic level, I believe it’s a true phenomenon and love when it’s brought up in fiction. Also religious extremism, secrets, animal abuse, child abuse, romance and friendship were all deftly explored throughout the novel.
I’ve enjoyed each of Ms. Wiseman’s novels. She continually creates strong women as characters who fight for what is right. Each novel is entirely different, yet they’ll leave you richer for what you’ve learned in each book. You can check them out here: The Plum Tree, What She Left Behind and Coal River.
Quotes I liked:
People get mad at animals for acting like animals all the time.”
-“A gust of stale air brushed over her face as if the house were exhaling after decades of holding its breath.”
-“Life was too big and too short and too important to talk about the lack of rain or the latest gossip. She wanted to know how people felt about themselves and one another, whether they were happy or sad. She wanted to know what made them feel loved and what hurt them to the core. She wanted to know about their past, how they got where they were, and their relationships with their mothers and fathers and siblings. She wanted to know if she was the only mixed-up person in the world who felt completely and utterly alone.”