The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

Sage Winters, a teenage girl living on Staten Island with her stepdad in 1971, overhears a conversation that sends her world into a tailspin and will forever change the course of her life.  Her mother, who died in a car accident a few years ago, originally told her that her mentally ill, twin sister, Rosemary, died of pneumonia 6 years ago.  She is distraught to find out that her sister was, instead, sent to the Willowbrook State School (an underfunded, understaffed, and inhumane insane asylum disguised as a school).

But, that’s not all.  Rosemary is missing from Willowbrook, and the staff has no idea where she has gone.  Fearing that she was Cropsey’s, Staten Island’s serial killer’s, latest victim, she sneaks away from her already tumultuous life and boards a bus to Willowbrook hoping to find out more information about her sister and fill in the gaps from the past 6 years.

Her trip to Willowbrook is doomed from the start, but things become more complicated when she arrives at the “School” and is instantly mistaken for Rosemary.  Nobody believes her claims to be Sage, and she is forced to become a patient at Willowbrook.

Her worst nightmares would never have prepared her for the horror that is in store for her.

Her quest for knowledge immediately becomes a quest for survival.

When an up and coming reporter (none other than the real Geraldo Rivera) sneaks into Willowbrook and exposes the atrocities happening behind the scenes, Sage sees her chance at freedom.  However, she starts to realize that after what she has experienced, she may never be free again.

Why I read it: Recommendation in online book group

Trigger warnings: Language, mental illness, physical/mental/psychological abuse, rape, murder, captivity

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Paris Library

In 1939, Odile Souchet is living in Paris with her parents and twin brother when she is hired to be a librarian at the American Library in Paris.  As she becomes engrossed with the great literary works with which she is surrounded on a daily basis, she becomes friends with an eclectic group of peers ranging from young to old and of varying nationalities.  As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that another world war with Germany looms heavily on the horizon.  Almost overnight, Odile’s life begins to change when Hitler’s Nazis take over Paris, and the city once alive with art and romance succumbs to a harsh new reality of rations and the loss of freedom.  As books are banned and the libraries close their doors under Hitler’s directive, the American Library is one of the few kept open during Nazi occupation.  Head librarian, Dorothy Reeder as well as Odile and her friends took on the dangerous task of delivering books to Jews who were banned from the library by the Nazis.  During this tumultuous time, Odile fell in love and made lifelong friendships, but she also witnessed the best and absolute worst of humanity.

Fast forward to Montana, 1983.  Lily is a rising high schooler who has never been able to assimilate into social groups with her peers.  However, she has always been fascinated with her neighbor, Odile, even though the rest of community shuns her because she immigrated to the United States as a “war bride” engaged to one of the small town’s most eligible bachelors.  As Lily interviews Odile for a school assignment, she learns much more about love and friendship than world history.  When tragedy strikes Lily’s family, Odile becomes so much more than a neighbor or the subject of a class project.  The lessons that Lily learns from Odile are invaluable, but it is what Lily learns about Odile that will change her life forever.

Trigger warnings: War, death, physical attack on women, mild sexual content

Why I read it: Recommendation in online book group

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Last Green Valley

Fleeing one dictatorial, evil regime to live under another dictatorial, evil regime.  Trying to decide whether life is worse as an ethnic German under Adolf Hitler or a native Russian under Josef Stalin, a family will go to desperate lengths to stay together and survive some of the darkest years of world history.

The Martel family, with German ancestry but Russian ties, knew that their lives in Ukraine were doomed as Stalin’s forces moved in to occupy the area.  They had a choice to make; they could stay and continue farming under the control of Stalin who was famous for spying on, starving, and murdering his own people, or they could flee and claim their German lineage to live under Hitler who, up until the summer of 1944 seemed to be unstoppable in his military victories and territorial takeovers.  With heavy and reluctant hearts, they packed up everything they owned and joined a wagon train of Ukranian refugees to attempt survival under the watchful eyes of the German SS rather than the equally evil Soviet regime.  Their journey to German territory was nothing short of unbelievable, horrifying and, yet, truly inspiring.  Just when you think they can’t endure another atrocity on their quest for freedom, another unthinkable thing happens to them, and they must somehow muster up enough strength to overcome the newest obstacle.  They know they are better together, but staying together might get them all killed.

Why I read it:  Recommendation in a Facebook book group

Trigger warnings: language, rape, violence, young death

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)