Friday, September 24, 2010

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

In Victorian England, the protocol for young ladies was to learn the gentle arts (embroidery, music, hosting parties) and her goal of achievement was to marry a gentleman, start and family and become part of a social network of genteel ladies that included visiting cards and tea, and socials. But Louisa wants none of that….

Living in a home with the perfect Victorian mother as a model, Louisa struggles against her mother’s wishes and runs to her father for support. And it’s there that her father gives Louisa a look at the “other side,” a place of learning about medicine, reading and studying Latin, wanting more from life than scones, teas and garden parties. And Louisa wants this so badly.

Because of her gregarious nature, Louisa fights against becoming a gentlewoman. At her aunt’s house, she shows her true nature by speaking outright against the position women are held in and wants nothing of marriage, but a career instead. And this alarms her family more than she realizes…

With the passing of her father, the fate of her future now rests with her brother Tom, who is now head of household. He has deemed it fit for Louisa to become a companion to a friend’s sister, and there she must find her meaning in life. But what she doesn’t realize is that she’s been committed by her family to Wildthorn, the local insane asylum, to cure her of her “insanity.” And it’s at Wildthorn that will make or break Louisa, but is her will strong enough to survive the horrors she faces there?

This is Eagland’s first YA novel, and she tackles the historical side of Victorian England from all viewpoints, including parents, siblings, fiancees, men and women. What the reader realizes after reading this book is that problems young women face today are the same ones they faced over a hundred years ago. The only difference is the way these problems have been handled by society. Eagland writes not only about the forward movement of women into the workforce, but tackles personal issues as well, including assault against teens and feelings Louisa has toward the "gentler sex." The setting takes main stage in this book, looking at the horrors of what happened in an insane asylum in the Victorian Age. The only caveat would be the epilogue, which seemed to be a hasty happy ending of Louisa’s and Eliza’s relationship with each other. Otherwise, the allusions, situations, and twists Eagland writes within her novel makes this an outstanding new debut for YA fiction.

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