Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.”Woman 99 by Greer Macallister
Goldengrove is a privately owned institution designed for those in need of mental health care. From the outside it appears to be a tranquil, welcoming place for rest and recovery. However, it may not be as healing as it seams.
Set in the late 1880s in a time where many outrageous treatment practices for mental illness were being performed, Woman 99 by Greer Macallister portrays what life was like in a mental health institute or asylum of that day.
Charlotte and Phoebe Smith are two close knit sisters of a wealthy and privileged family in San Francisco. Image is everything to their mother, and they must put on the best front, or risk embarrassing the family name. When the older sister, Phoebe begins to show signs of recurring mania and melancholy, her parents commit her to a nearby asylum run by family friends. Just like that, Phoebe is locked away, cut off from corresponding or visiting with her family, almost as if she wasn’t part of the family in the first place.
Desperate to get her sister back, and believing Phoebe has been wrongfully admitted, Charlotte devises a rash and impulsive plan to get her sister back. She will become a patient of Goldengrove and she will find her sister and bring her home. Feigning despair, Charlotte enters as ‘woman 99’. Now she is only a number, and with her unknown identity she hopes she can locate her sister. However, once admitted, Charlotte realizes its much harder to get out than in.
She also begins to realize the asylum is not as it was portrayed. It’s not just the mentally ill who are committed here. Woman who defy the cultural and social norms of the day and upset society are admitted as well as those who are genuinely in need of help and support. All deserve to be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity. All will be denied this. As patients of Goldengrove, the women are judged by their diagnoses, their former way of living and circumstances, and the fact that they are admitted there.
Charlotte comes with only one intention: to locate and rescue her sister, Phoebe. However, the longer she stays, she begins to form friendships with the other women there, listening to their stories, and developing a different view on life than she had before. Goldengrove will change her.
I was expecting more of a mystery/thriller element to this book as it is categorized as a historical thriller, however, I found it to be more a work of historical fiction than thriller. There certainly were some elements of suspense, but they didn’t overly grip or scare me. There were also some things I was able to predict some events before they happened.
Overall, I liked this book, and look forward to reading the author’s soon to be published book The Arctic Fury which will be released in December. It was announced this year that Woman 99 is becoming a TV series adaptation.
A shortened part of this review is also published on my Instagram.
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