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Reviewed by Kim Anisi for Readers' Favorite
The story of Asylum by Sherry Logsdon begins in the year 1896, when Isobel McFadden boards the S.S. Farnassia after her father decides to send her away - all the way to America. Isobel does not know her final destination, nor what kind of job she will end up doing. She only knows that it can't be much worse than continuing to live with her father who never loved her. Isobel is only 16 years old and shocked when she learns that she is to be the new head matron of the isolated Helsley House - an asylum for insane women. Or at least women who are supposed to be insane. Isobel has no choice but to take on her new responsibility. She makes friends with staff and clients, but never truly warms up to the cruel owner of the institution. He makes her assist him during his sessions with the women. His experiments are supposed to help them, but Isobel soon learns two things: his usually barbaric treatments are anything but helpful, and most of his patients are anything but insane. Will the young woman be able to help them or turn into a victim herself?
I have to admit that I picked up Asylum thinking that there was some supernatural or horror element involved. After all, the plot summary didn't quite make it clear what the real reasons for the women's "imprisonment" in the asylum were, only that it's not really about them being insane. It probably was good that the description was a bit vague, otherwise I might not have picked it up as books that deal with women's rights often end up being rather ponderous. Asylum shows that 16-year-old girls had to deal with completely different issues back in the past. Readers not only learn about life circumstances at the end of the 19th century (and early 20th century) but also follow the extraordinary development of Isobel from teenager to young adult to an adult woman. To me, it was interesting to see how the girl who knew nothing about being a leader turned into someone others looked up to and depended on. Isobel is forced to learn many things very quickly, and in some parts her attitude can be quite inspiring.
While this novel is about women's rights and so deals with topics that were current during the late 19th and early 20th century (like women's right to vote), it is mainly an exciting story about how one young woman learns about the cruelty of the world and then decides to do her best to work against it. It is a story about women who dare to speak their minds. I found it was a good read, well written, and also educating as it opens readers' eyes to some of the horrendous things that were done to women to keep them quiet. I would recommend this book to readers who have an interest in women's rights, but don't want to be overwhelmed with historical dates and numbers. This book weaves facts and dates into an exciting story, and doesn't throw one fact and date after the other at readers. It is also a great historical coming of age story with some interesting plot twists, and some psycho-horror elements along the way.