Title: The Life She Was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wisema
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
While there seems to be a run on circus settings lately, The Life She Was Given is actually perfect to have a circus setting! We have two settings and POVs here. One from a girl in the 1930's and another from a girl in the 1950's. Both are connected to the same house; but the mystery of how, why, etc. is of course a good chunk of the plot of the book.
You can't go wrong with a creepy old house that has areas boarded up and secret rooms. And alternatively the circus is a great place to tell the story of a 'freak' or 'unnatural' (as she is called in the books) girl. Between these two settings I was hooked from the first chapter.
The rich circus setting is not over done or exaggerated at all. As for the house; I can't say much or I'll give too much away. Just now that it's a bit creepy and hides secrets well.
As always, the primary story I loved was the older one set (largely) at the circus with our 10-year-old girl. The start of our story is a 10-year-old girl who is trapped in an attic and never let out by her parents because she is a 'freak'.
I won't give away what makes her a 'freak' because I think it's an interesting reveal.
Relevant to the start of this story is actually a tidbit from the acknowledgements where author Ellen Marie Wiseman indicates that Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews was a part of the inspiration for the past story. Certainly she nailed it on that aspect. I read Flowers in the Attic when I was a teen (and like Wiseman) I was very struck by it and immediately upon reading the first chapter of The Life She Was Given it was my first thought. Kudos to Wiseman for taking the trapped in the attic element and making it her own story from there.
Our lead gal in the 50's timeline is a down on her luck gal who definitely could use some direction and purpose in life. This portion of the story is maybe 25% of the whole story; but is (of course) relevant to the reveal at the end of the book. I think there was just enough of this time period without it becoming monotonous or overdone. The reality is that we all want to read about the circus more than we want to read about breeding race horses. That's just basic human curiosity for most.
Of all the things that were lovely about The Life She Was Given, certainly the tone, flow and voice of the stories was most striking. Wiseman has a writing style I love. One that compels you to turn the page, but also captures that 'old' feel. Almost like you are watching an old movie of someone's life that has the stains on the edges, and is maybe a bit worn. I'm not sure how else to explain it but this is the kind of historical fiction writing I love. Where we feel immersed in the past and the small details (like the value of leather or silk) is emphasized in order to remind us that they didn't use go to a mall to buy things. I am definitely interesting in reading all of Wiseman's books now just to read more of her writing style.
If you like historical fiction I think you are destined to like this. Interestingly it sets just before WWII and just after. I found this choice to be quite clever by Wiseman and at no time did I feel like she forgot the war because during the narrative it's clear lots of things are happening in the world. However it's not necessarily relevant to our the very focused story here.
Overall I adored this book. Characters were all very enjoyable, romance was lovely (not over done) and the settings were the icing on the cake.
Definitely one I will be purchasing for my personal print library!
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.