What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

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Ten years ago, Izzy Stone’s mother fatally shot her father while he slept. Devastated by her mother’s apparent insanity, Izzy, now seventeen, refuses to visit her in prison. But her new foster parents, employees at a local museum, have enlisted Izzy’s help in cataloging items at a long-shuttered state asylum. There, amid piles of abandoned belongings, Izzy discovers a stack of unopened letters, a decades old journal, and a window into her own past.

Clara Cartwright, eighteen years old in 1929, is caught between her overbearing parents and her love for an Italian immigrant. Furious when she rejects an arranged marriage, Clara’s father sends her to a genteel home for nervous invalids. But when his fortune is lost in the stock market crash, he can no longer afford her care—and Clara is committed to the public asylum.

Even as Izzy deals with the challenges of yet another new beginning, Clara’s story keeps drawing her into the past. If Clara was never really mentally ill, could something else explain her own mother’s violent act? Piecing together Clara’s fate compels Izzy to re-examine her own choices—with shocking and unexpected results.

Illuminating and provocative, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND is a masterful novel about the yearning to belong—and the mysteries that can belie even the most ordinary life.


This is one of my top 5 most depressing books ever. Was it well-written, well-developed and insightful? Yes. Was it incredibly unsettling and depressing? Also, yes.

I feel so much sadness for the people sent to asylums who were unfairly and unjustly treated. While this is a work of fiction, the asylum itself is a factual location, and you can only imagine some of the things that occurred there, which are touched on in this book. It definitely educated me and opened my eyes to the history of the treatment of mental illness, of much I was unaware.

The author drew inspiration from the book The Lives They Left Behind:Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, and I’m hoping that one day I’ll get the courage to read about the real patients of Willard asylum.

4 out of 5 stars.

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