Friday, March 11, 2016

A madness so discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Grace Mae has been confined in a Boston mental asylum, not because she is insane, but because she had the poor taste to be a girl of good breeding who became pregnant out of wedlock.  If the truth were known her reputation and the reputation of her family would be in tatters, so while society thinks she is abroad in Europe she is instead living in an asylum among the truly insane.  Food is scarce, the inmates are treated like animals, and there is no hope of salvation even once the baby is born because Grace has no control over her own life.  When she commits the ultimate sin of fighting back she is locked away in the basement where the worst of the insane are forgotten in the constant dark or rendered harmless through an extreme treatment.

Pushed to her limits Grace strikes an unusual bargain with one of the doctors who helps her escape from Boston, taking her with him to a new asylum in Ohio.  She may have swapped one asylum for another, but the two asylums could not be more different and for the first time in her life Grace feels safe and useful.  Her bargain means that the doctor will keep her secret as long as she helps him at crime scenes, using her extraordinary ability to observe and recollect details to help him uncover who the murderer might be.  It is not such a bad arrangement, but it does mean that she must pretend to be mute, hiding her voice and her intelligence from friends and strangers alike.  When it appears that a serial killer is stalking the streets of her new town Grace and her doctor become entangled in the mystery, and it soon becomes clear that Grace may indeed be mad - but it is a madness that is ever so discreet.

It is a challenge to come up with a truly unique story in this day and age, each year hundreds if not thousands of new books enter the young adult market - all competing for the attention of readers and reviewers alike.  A madness so discreet is a truly unique voice in this crowded market place a blend historical fiction, crime thriller and family drama built (primarily) on the relationship between Grace Mae and Dr. Thornhollow.  Grace is strong willed and determined to live life on her terms, despite what society might think.  Her reasons for ending up in the asylum in Boston are truly unjust and provide a sad reflection of the fate of many "inconvenient" women from that time period - it took very little to have a woman committed.  Dr. Thornhollow is an interesting contrast to Grace, he is helping her for his own gains and in many ways he is a spoilt man child who is too used to getting his own way.  His tinkers away at his hobbies and sees Grace as a means to an end.

There is a clear dividing line between Boston Grace and Ohio Grace, although in both places she gains friends in the most unexpected of places.  I was instantly drawn to the complex relationships of this novel and the subtle madness that everyone seemed to have, even the so called "sane" characters.  It took me longer to read A madness so discreet than I wanted because life kept getting in the way, but I finished the last 100 pages in a single sitting which almost made up for it.  This is a finished novel in itself, but I can't help but get the feeling (and the hope) that we may get to see Grace and her doctor again.  This is a richly drawn world that is well fleshed out without drowning you in inconsequential details.  A finely balanced read that has left me wanting more.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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