A Madness So Discreet - Mindy McGinnis
Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.
The book takes place in 1890 in Boston, and we begin in an insane asylum. Quickly it's obvious that while some of the people in the asylum are there for legitimate mental illnesses, but most of them are there for things that are easily absurd. The story centers around Grace, who finds herself in the asylum, and we can infer from other people's observations about her that she comes from a seemingly wealthy family, and presumably one with a high social status because she's to be treated better (kind of) than other patients. Grace is also pregnant, which is what lands her in the asylum- to be pregnant out of wedlock with a bastard child in 1890 goes against every social and moral standard, so she's to spend her pregnancy locked up. Her baby already promised to a caregiver in Grace's ward, and her future uncertain.
Grace has taken to not speaking because the road that's she been on to get to this point is pretty horrible (which we find out more about who the father of her child is later on). There is a point in the story where, after being sexually propositioned basically, Grace loses it and stabs a man with a fork. That sends her to essentially one of the worst "treatments" I have ever read and the ending result of the treatment hardens Grace in a way that we all see coming but man... it's so hard to read. So hard.
So then she finds her non-compliant self down in what is basically a dungeon basement and she "meets" a pillar of support, Falsteed. Falsteed warns her of Dr. Thornhollow, who performs "procedures" on the worst, non compliant patients and it leaves them quiet and docile. Grace longs for this because she just wants to not remember her past, the traumas she's been through, and her losses. After meeting Dr. Thornhollow, she is interested in his work and he finds her interesting and peculiar and from there they hatch a plan to rescue Grace from her current asylum and she would assist him on his study of serial killers.
Fast forward and Grace finds herself in a much better asylum in Ohio, where she meets a group of friends who are kind to her and she finds this a much nicer living arrangement than in Boston. She goes on "adventures" with Dr. Thornhollow and they become friends though some suspect them of more. The second half of the book is like a beginning look at the study of serial killers, like profiling 101 if you will. We also learn about vengeance and how maybe the justice you want isn't always the best.
Some notes about the book:
- I want SO much to talk about the relationship between Grace and Dr. Thornhollow but everyone will think it's a spoiler but ugh... I want so much more. SO MUCH.
- When Grace is in Ohio, she has a friend who is in the asylum because she suffers from small pox. It had been awhile since I looked up small pox and holy hell- don't do it, friends. DON'T DO IT. Especially during lunch.
- One of my favorite passages in this book which made me burst out laughing is on page 201 and reads, "Grace's throat itched to join them, but it was not only subterfuge that kept her mouth firmly shut. Emotions had welled close to the surface, and she thought her heart had never felt so full as it did standing next to the defiled grave of a whore while lunatics sang the national anthem." Just the visual of this? I felt like I shouldn't laugh but I really couldn't help it.
Overall? This book is absolutely stunning. It's a beautifully written, absolutely horrifying, amazing book. It starts out as a punch to your gut and you are immediately filled with an immense sadness for not only Grace but the general treatment of mentally ill people but also people who were locked up for petty reasons, and you don't know if you are going to make it to the end. But it's like a slow break in the clouds as you read this book and you are left feeling hopeful for not just Grace but for the rest of the cast of characters.