Book Club Review: What She Left Behind By Ellen Marie Wiseman
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What She Left Behind
Paperback | Kindle | Audiobook
By Ellen Marie Wiseman
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: December 31, 2013

Ellen Marie Wiseman is a bestselling author whose 2nd novel, What She Left Behind, was published in 2013, and remained on Amazon’s top 200 list for years. I just formed a book club with some of my neighbors, and our 1st pick for the month of August was Wiseman’s story of two young women, one from the 1920s and one from the 1990s, who become connected when modern Izzy finds the diary of Clara in an old suitcase left in a shuttered asylum. While Izzy contends with the horrors of high school, coupled with a very troubled past, she feels compelled to follow Clara’s story, who was forced into a mental institution by her father because she refused to marry a man chosen for her. After all, she was already in love.

We discussed the novel in full, but I’ll try not to spoil too much.

Some findings:

– Izzy’s story was quite relevant and relatable to today, as bullying is a real problem in schools now, and she really is tormented by the “mean girls.”

– Most of us would have loved to go through the old suitcases and explore people from the past through their belongings.

– It started off slow, but ended quickly, and a lot of it was neatly tied up

– It hurt some of us in the heart because of the connection to the material. Some parts, especially about how the way Clara was treated in the institution was very realistic.

– The ending was surprising.

– We all hated Dr. Roach (Come on… his name).

We had a lot of fun with this one. We did pick it apart, but when it comes down to it, it kept us reading, and we read it quickly.

Our book club enjoyed this story very much and highly recommend it.

Next month’s discussion will be Philip Roth’s Nemesis. See ya then!

Official Synopsis:

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 the 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.

Illuminating and provocative, What She Left Behind is a masterful novel about the yearning to belong–and the mysteries that can belie even the most ordinary life.

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