A GREAT GROUP READS Selection of the Women’s National Book Association and National Reading Group Month
A GOODREADS Best of the Month Selection
“A powerful, poignant novel.”
—In Touch, Grade A
From the internationally bestselling author of The Orphan Collector comes a beautifully written and moving tale of family secrets and the importance of a mother’s love—and how it can shape a life—even in the most shocking ways. A painful saga of strength and reinvention perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes and Lisa Wingate—set in two different times, as two young women come of age and uncover the mysteries of their families, and find their own ways in the world…
On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow.
More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.
At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction...until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.
Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.
“Perfect for book clubs and readers who admired Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants.”
—Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“A vibrant maze of desires.”
“Seamlessly blends mystery and history with compelling and well-researched details.”
—The Historical Novels Review
“Vividly drawn and complex…Fans of Karen White and Sara Gruen will be drawn in by the drama and mystery of Wiseman’s novel.”
Wiseman alternates between 1930s and 1950s New York State in this emotional tale of one young girl's tragedy and another's coming of age. At Blackwood Manor Horse Farm in 1930s New York, nine-year-old Lilly Blackwood bemoans the fact that her mother won't let her out of her attic room. She wants to visit the local circus, which she can see with her telescope. Instead, her mother sells her to the circus because of Lilly's albinism. The narrative jumps ahead to the 1950s, when 18-year-old runaway Julia Blackwood learns that she has inherited Blackwood Manor in the wake of her parents' death. Back in the 1930s, as Lilly grows up in the circus, she makes friends with some other members of the troupe. And in the 1950s, as Julia learns how to run the horse farm, she tries to uncover the secret of the manor's attic room and the old pictures of a mysterious girl who was a member of a circus. Wiseman has created two equally enticing story lines that gradually reveal the commonalities between them. This well-crafted novel provides rewards throughout.
What a great book. I couldn’t put it down and I didn’t not see the end coming. What a sad sad story
The Life She Was Given
This author is very good. Her characters, locations, descriptions….great. But…..I was depressed for days! If I want stories like this, all I need to do is watch the news! Lighten up!
This was a beautifully researched and written and almost unrelentingly bleak book. I can’t recommend it and wish I hadn’t read it.