The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Published: July 25, 2017. Kensington
Reviewed by Kirsten Lowe
During the depression in the 1930s, the family who resided at Blackwood Manor hid a secret in their attic. Her name was Lilly and she was 10 years old, and the reason why she had to be kept away from the world? Her mother told her she was a monster and an abomination – but in reality was Lilly was just born an albino.
The problem was not Lilly, the problem was that she was born to a spineless father and crazed religious fanatic mother believing that her only child was cursed because of a skin condition. When the circus comes to town Lilly’s mother sees this has her opportunity to rid herself of her daughter and breaks the sacred bond between a mother and daughter – she sells her child to the circus as the new addition to the “freak show.”
We jump ahead 20 years to meet 18-year-old Julia, who is barely getting by as a waitress while living with her lazy abusive boyfriend. One day at her work, Julia is approached by a private investigator that informs her that her mother has died, and she has inherited her childhood home, Blackwood Manor.
It was far from a happy and loving relationship Julia had with her parents – especially her strict mother. Now arriving back at her unhappy childhood home, the unnerving feeling that the house is hiding many secrets from Julia comes crawling back, and since there is no one to stop her from entering the “forbidden” rooms, she can finally discover what was going on behind all these locked doors.
Though The Life She Was Given was an emotional read, it was not one of Wiseman’s best pieces of work. I had trouble staying focused on the story because the plot was carried out so slowly, and it had difficulty keeping my attention. The one thing that this book did have was moments of complete despair that tore away at the reader’s heart (warning: child/animal abuse is present in this novel).
Wiseman continues to give excellent details in her writings and put her characters through rocky situations that real people would’ve have to dealt with decades ago – Wiseman did another wonderful job with her research of this time period, while interweaving some true events from history throughout her book. Although, in my opinion, this wasn’t one of her strongest novels, I still look forward to Wiseman’s next story. Yes, the plot may be weak in some, but her strength in writing about descriptions and characters remains outstanding.
Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.