The Life She Was Given
Barnes & Noble
Published by: Kensington
Release Date: July 25, 2017
From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.
On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow.
More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.
At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction…until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.
Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.
“Switching back and forth in time and narration from Lilly to Julia, Wiseman has crafted a can’t-put-it-down novel of family secrets involving two young girls who only seek to be loved. Perfect for book clubs and readers who admired Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants.”
– Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
“Ellen Marie Wiseman gathers potent Gothic elements in The Life She was Given to examine the impact of child abuse across generations. A sumptuous plot balances horror and tenderness to reveal lesser-known facets of history… The Life She was Given is a vibrant maze of desires. The sharp divide between expectations and painful truths, mothers and daughters, past and present, culminate in a sensational finale.”
– ForeWord Reviews
“A powerful, poignant novel.”
– In Touch, Grade A
“Ellen Marie Wiseman is noted for capturing little known pockets of American life and depicting them with heart and insight; her latest novel may be her most harrowing yet…The author’s in-depth knowledge of traveling circuses and “freak shows” of the era is evident. The novel seamlessly blends mystery and history with compelling and well-researched details. The two women in the book, though separated by time, demonstrate resilience in the face of despair. Thematic elements include religious extremism; the many forms of love; and strength under adverse circumstances.”
– The Historical Novels Review
“Wiseman has created two equally enticing story lines that gradually reveal the commonalities between them. This well-crafted novel provides rewards throughout.”
- Publishers Weekly
“A novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.”
“Wiseman excels at creating an atmosphere…Her characters are all vividly drawn and complex, especially Lilly’s abusive mother, Coralline. But at the heart of Wiseman’s tale of loss and redemption are Lilly and Julia, connected in spirit by their determination to overcome years of pain and sorrow. Fans of Karen White and Sara Gruen will be drawn in by the drama and mystery of Wiseman’s novel.”
“I loved this book! While it felt like a mystery because the younger sister, Julia, never knew about the older sister, Lillian, the two different viewpoints read like straight fiction. I was continually rooting for the sisters to meet, imagining two kindred spirits finally finally discovering each other after a stoic childhood. The unpredictable ending was gut wrenching, but in a way that made sense, given the entirety of the book.”
– Shirley Cagle, Northshire Bookstore
“Wiseman did another wonderful job with her research of this time period, while interweaving some true events from history throughout her book.”
– The Red Deer Advocate
A 2017 GREAT GROUP READS Selection of the Women’s National Book Association and National Reading Group Month
A GOODREADS Best of the Month.
A theSkimms Selection
2018 One Book, One County Read in Niagara County, NY
2019 One Book, One Community Read in Easton, MA
Blackwood Manor Horse Farm
Nine-year-old Lilly Blackwood stood in the attic dormer of Blackwood Manor for what felt like the thousandth time, wishing the window would open so she could smell the outdoors. Tomorrow was her birthday and she couldn’t think of a better present. Sure, Daddy would bring her a new dress and another book when he came home from Pennsylvania, but it had rained earlier and she wanted to know if the outside air felt different than the inside air. She wondered if raindrops made everything feel soft and cool, the way water did when she took a sponge bath. Or did the outside feel warm and sticky, like the air inside her room? She had asked Momma a hundred times to change the window so it would open, and to take the swirly metal off the outside so it would be easier to see out, but as usual, Momma wouldn’t listen. If Momma knew Daddy let her play in another part of the attic when she was at church, Daddy would be in big trouble. Even bigger trouble than for teaching her how to read and for giving her a cat on her third birthday. Lilly sighed, picked up her telescope off the sill, and put it to her eye. At least it was summertime and she didn’t have to scrape ice off the glass.