With 19th-century British asylum scenes reminiscent of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, Eagland’s YA novel, Wildthorn, is in turns suspenseful, sad, and romantic. Louisa Cosgrove is sent by her brother to the home of a wealthy family to be a companion for another young lady. But instead of a cushy manor, she finds herself left at Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the insane, and is told that her name is not Louisa Cosgrove but Lucy Childs.
However, in childhood flashbacks portraying Louisa’s stuffy, well-mannered mother; kind, physician father; and indulgent aunt, readers begin to trust in the narrator’s sanity.
The majority of the book takes place in the asylum. Accurately reflecting Louisa’s suspension from real life and lack of connection to the outside world, these scenes can grow tiresome. Readers will be with Louisa throughout as she tries to figure out how she ended up in her current situation–betrayal, mistaken identity, or did someone find out about her “unnatural” attraction to her cousin Grace.
But it is Louisa’s love for another woman that provides a more significant arc in the novel. She develops a warm, slow, wholly natural love with a nurse at the asylum, and their sweet romance is easy to identify with.
As a young adult novel, the plot-centric nature of the book and its somewhat stereotypical tropes–a tomboyish girl in 19th-century Essex wants to be a doctor and rebels against social customs and her mother’s guidance–are to be expected. With a satisfying love story and a likable, smart protagonist, this is an enjoyable read for fans of YA.