Monday, November 6, 2017

Book Review: The Life She Was Given

By Melissa Amster

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. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

It's been a while since I've had a book hangover, but The Life She Was Given made me remember what that feels like. I had a bunch of different emotions wreaking havoc on me afterward and one of the biggest ones was sadness that it was over. While the subject matter of this novel was heavy and sometimes disturbing, I just couldn't put it down, but I also didn't want it to end.

Lilly and Julia were such kind and sympathetic characters, even after growing up with such a heartless and cruel mother. Some parts of the story made me think of a V.C. Andrews novel, such as living in the attic of a big house and having a mother who cared more about what the Bible said than about her own daughter's feelings. (I also remember a minor character in one of the books being sold to a circus.) Things were also difficult for Lilly at the circus, even though she did have some friends to help her out.

I do want to warn readers about the heavy and disturbing parts. It involves both child and animal abuse. I don't want to give away too much more, but those are definitely the core issues that take place throughout the novel. If you can handle Water for Elephants, you should be able to handle this one too. I could easily visualize a lot of what was happening and all the characters. Ellen's descriptions were simplistic enough to paint a picture without taking away from the action.

Despite all that, I just couldn't get enough of this novel. I read most of it in one sitting and just didn't want to put it down to get back to real life. Ellen Marie Wiseman tells a haunting and compelling story that will leave readers reeling for a long time to come. As this is only the second book of Ellen's that I've read, I definitely want to check out her others now.

Some casting ideas for Hollywood's consideration:
Lilly (teen/young adult): Michelle Bergh
Julia: Sierra McCormick
Cole: Cayden Boyd
Merrick: Chace Crawford
Fletcher: Alden Ehrenreich
Glory: Tuppence Middleton

Thanks to Kensington for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Ellen Marie Wiseman:


Erica Robyn said...

This sounds so good!! Adding to my TBR now. Great review!

Janine said...

Sounds very interesting

Ellen Marie Wiseman said...

A thousand thanks for this wonderful review!! Love the casting ideas!! :)

The Book Sage said...

And I've had Wiseman's What She Left Behind in my TBR pile for what seems live a really long time. I better get to it.

Carole said...

Not quite in the mood for this one at the moment but will keep it in mind. Cheers

The Book Sage said...

You know that I read What She Left Behind and loved it (4/4). I am now 30 pages into The Life She Was Given and am loving this one too. She doesn't make her books easy to read. But, boy, is she good. Thanks for recommending her to me. Have you read her other 2?