What She Left Behind

Image of What She Left Behind: A Haunting and Heartbreaking Story of 1920s Historical Fiction
Release Date: 
December 30, 2013
Reviewed by: 

“What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding.

She’s done it again. At this time last year, Ms. Wiseman’s first novel The Plum Tree was released. It was excellent and received deservedly wonderful reviews. It is rare that a writer’s follow up work is as good as their first. Such a rarity has been accomplished with What She Left Behind. The author has once again delved into the lives of teenage girls, albeit in different circumstances than her first work, yet with the same insight, nuance, and raw emotion readers can appreciate and enjoy.

One of the girls in the story is 18 and is living in the 1930s (Clara) and the other (Izzy), lives in the 1990s. Clara is sent to a state mental institution (Willard State), because she challenges her father’s wishes for whom she should marry and Izzy must adapt to a new set of foster parents and her last year in high school, as a result of her mother having killed her father when she was seven. The girls' lives intersect when Izzy gets involved in a project that unearths suitcases in the now defunct mental institution in which Clara was captive—she finds Clara’s journal and photo inside.

The scenes of Clara’s experience and travails at Willard State are all too real and affecting in part because many similar circumstances actually took place at that mental facility and others around the country for many decades. Izzy’s struggle with a school bully, harming herself, and learning who and how to accept love and whom to trust, is no less impactful than Clara’s chapters.

What She Left Behind screams with authenticity, depth, and understanding of human behavior and what can and has been done to others to maintain control.

Though Clara is literally kept as a prisoner, there are no prisoners taken in this second outing of Ms. Wiseman. The story (equal parts suspense, mystery, coming-of-age, and first love) sets a high-powered microscope on the inhuman institutions and patriarchy that have plagued our past (and present), while simultaneously revealing the love, care, compassion, and connection that can survive the worst experiences life has to ofter.