Our latest book club read was What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. Luckily for us, the restaurant choice was immensely better than the book. We met at a gluten free restaurant that’s new in town called WheatLess. It was delicious! They had homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies, like Little Debbie but gluten free, homemade, and amazing. They also had the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever eaten. Anyone else obsessed with sweet potato fries? If they are on the menu, I’m almost certainly trying them. They are like my go-to side item, like Reuben’s are my go-to sandwich. WheatLess, thumbs up. What She Left Behind, thumbs down.
Title: What She Left Behind
Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman
Format I Read: Kindle
Synopsis: Izzy and Clara are girls separated by time. Each is struggling through life, one at the beginning of the 20th century and the other at the end. In 1929, Clara is an 18 year old heiress who ends up in an asylum for loving the wrong type of man. In 1995, Izzy is a 17 year old who has been in and out of foster care after her mother murdered her father. Through circumstances, or perhaps fate, their stories become entwined. Izzy sets out to put together the puzzle pieces of Clara’s life while desperately trying to keep her own life from falling apart as well.
Thoughts: Izzy’s latest set of foster parents are museum curators, and Izzy is helping them catalog the belongings patients of the state mental asylum left behind. Here she finds Clara’s diary and believes she can piece together what happened to Clara. This is another book where our narrator switches back and forth (from Izzy to Clara) but it also switches time. Even though Izzy is reading Clara’s diary, we are not reading along with her. We are actually reading Clara’s story directly from Clara as it is happening. We read each girl’s story in her present time, and I did enjoy that. However, that is the only aspect of this book that I enjoyed.
The book was published by Kensington Publishing Corporation but it feels self-published at the very least. Wiseman’s writing has potential but it is sloppy and in dire need of editing. An Amazon review I read called it “sophomoric” and that rang true. For example, there were multiple times when she used the same descriptors over and over within a few pages of each other. I noticed she described people as having “glassy eyes” more than once in the span of like three pages. My other two book club compadres each noticed the same tactic with different descriptors at other points in the story. It comes off as lazy, like it was too hard to find new adjectives.
I like to think when I read a book, even when I don’t enjoy it, I can use it as an opportunity to learn, discover, and observe. I won’t spoil What She Left Behind, but let me say this, it so overwhelmed me with anger and sadness that it made it impossible for me to take anything away from it. Perhaps this says something about the affecting nature of Wiseman’s writing despite it’s technical flaws, but after I finished it late one night, I couldn’t go to sleep. I had to let the effects wear off before I could settle down. Wiseman puts her main characters through seemingly endless torture, and even after it lets up at the very end, I could not get past it. Some might consider it a “happy” ending, but for me the damage had already been done. No amount of good fortune could undo the anger I felt at the some of the characters, the sadness at Izzy and Clara’s plights, and the crushing sense of claustrophobia throughout the book. Maybe I was supposed to learn something about overcoming adversity, but without letting the characters get ahead at least a little before the next staggering blow, the reading is exhausting and needlessly frustrating.
Overall, I would not recommend this book. The premise was intriguing and had potential. Clara and Izzy were likable characters, but the unpolished writing and story pacing makes for an unpleasant experience. My opinion is that it is not worth the reading time.