Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove longs to break free from her respectable life as a Victorian doctor's daughter. But her dreams become a nightmare when Louisa is sent to Wildthorn Hall: labeled a lunatic, deprived of her liberty and even her real name. As she unravels the betrayals that led to her incarceration, she realizes there are many kinds of prison. She must be honest with herself - and others - in order to be set free. And love may be the key... (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: PG-13, 4 stars
Trigger Warnings: institutional abuse, familial abuse, death
When I first heard about Wildthorn a few years ago, I got a vibe that it hit a subgenre that I rarely see covered: lesbian historical YA. YA novels featuring gay characters are becoming more and more prominent, but most of them seem to focus on gay males, and historical fiction with LGBTQ characters is still rare. So when I got this vibe, I was instantly intrigued and snagged the ebook when I had the chance.
I really appreciate the way everything unfolded in Wildthorn. I thought the concept of Louisa knowing everything and not telling the reader worked really well, even though it could have failed drastically. Fortunately, it didn’t, and I enjoyed not knowing things before the protagonist for once.
I had an interesting experience reading this book, because I read it while I was on a retreat at a Buddhist monastery. In many ways, my routine was similar to Louisa’s at the asylum, although my experience was entirely positive: I had set wake up times and meals; there were afternoon activities and chores; and all the laypeople had very different reasons for being there. So it was really different to read this book in circumstances that were so similar and yet almost the opposite of Louisa’s.
The setup of the book surprised me. The vibe I got was that the book would be entirely about Louisa’s sexuality, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that that wasn’t her only characteristic, and wasn’t what her family saw in her at all. I think there’s a risk in these sorts of YA novels for sexuality to be the protagonist’s only defining feature, and I was pleased that Louisa was a fully fleshed-out character.
In general, I thought all the characters were well-developed and realistic. I had some slight issues with how accepting Eliza’s family was, given the Victorian time period, but it didn’t seem out of their characters, just out of place for the time.
I think Wildthorn is a fascinating novel for readers today, particularly for female readers. *SPOILER* Considering that Louisa is locked up for reading, wanting to go to college, having priorities other than perfecting her appearance, among other things, female readers will likely really empathize with her based on these potential similarities. I know I did. *END SPOILER*
Wildthorn is a dark novel, and institutional abuse is prevalent, as is some familial abuse at the hands of Tom, Louisa’s brother. However, I’ve certainly read darker novels, and no part of Wildthorn was so intense that I actually had to put it down. It’s a good work of historical fiction, and it opens up some new perspectives for the reader.