Book Review: “The Life She Was Given” by Ellen Marie Wiseman

In the 30’s, Lilly Blackwood was a little girl, raised hidden away from everyone and told she was a monster. Then, her mother, sold her to the travelling circus. In the 50’s, Julia Blackwood, 18 years old and already three years estranged from her parents, learns that her parents are now both dead and she has inherited the large house and horse farm. Upon returning to Blackwood Manor, Julia sets out to learn why her parents were so cold and unloving, and discovers secrets that will change her completely – starting with the apparent bedroom for a little girl, hidden far away in the attic.

This story, told in the alternating perspectives of Lilly and Julia, is very interesting and has a lot of promise. There is quite a bit of heartache along the way – children and animals are NOT treated well – and the ultimate truth that is discovered is terrible. Life in the circus is brutal, for sure, but the Blackwoods are not much better. You will want to rescue Lilly a hundred times before you finish this book.

HOWEVER, the writing really frustrated me. At first, I thought the juvenile tone was a nod to the young narrator; after all Lilly is just turning 10 as the book begins. But language does not mature with the characters. I was getting annoyed with the beginning of each chapter, because no matter what, there was a sentence or two reminding you EXACTLY what and where you were and what just happened. This is not a long book, but some passages were far too long and with repetitive detail. Did we need an entire page describing mucking out a stall? And if I read one more passage that was literally “on one hand, this. On the the other hand, that.” I was going to throw something. I’ve never wanted to be an editor so badly in my life! It was frustrating, and I only finished it for my book group. It seems to have plenty of positive reviews on GoodReads, so maybe it just wasn’t my book? I won’t go on and on about it though, I just won’t be heartily recommending it to anyone.

  • The Life She Was Given
  • by Ellen Marie Wiseman
  • Kensington, 2017
  • 356 pages
  • Source: Library

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