When Sage Winter’s father left, she and her identical twin, Rosemary, were young. Her mother re-married to a man who couldn’t care less about the girls. Then, at age 10, Rosemary, sensitive and given to behaviors that might be considered odd, was rushed to a hospital where she quickly died of pneumonia. When her mother is killed in a car accident, Sage finds herself stuck living with her stepfather in their crummy apartment on Staten Island.
Sixteen now and struggling with the trajectory of her life, Sage overhears a conversation that changes her forever: her twin is alive and escaped from Willowbrook State School. Sage is determined to join the search for Rosemary and makes the trip to the school despite knowing it is a mysterious place where parents threaten to send their children if they misbehave. What she doesn’t count on is being mistaken for her missing sister and unable to convince anyone she’s not Rosemary.
Interestingly, the setting is a real asylum that Geraldo Rivera exposed in the 1970s for cruel and inhumane treatment and overall neglect of the patients, or residents. The “school” housed those suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, invalids, and even children who were simply abandoned by their parents. Add to that the urban legend of “Cropsey,” who, the story goes, worked at the school and would sneak out to kidnap children to bring back to the asylum. There, he would torture and kill the children. The frightening part is that there is truth to the legend. For more information, see https://classicnewyorkhistory.com/history-of-willowbrook-and-the-terrifying-legend-of-cropsey/
It has been a long time since I’ve read anything that bounced my heart from my throat to my stomach and back again, page after page. The pacing is fast, and once it takes off, it doesn’t stop. Sage’s pain, fear, and panic at being wrongly confined are profoundly felt, the descriptions of those who suffered and lived there are heart wrenching, and the overall suspense continues from cover to cover. Don’t expect lavish or lush prose. Instead, let the immediacy of the narrative propel you along Sage’s terrible journey. Wiseman’s seamless blending of true history, urban legend, and fictitious characters yields a breath-stealing whirlwind of an emotional read.
The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman published August 30, 2022. Visit her online at EllenMarieWiseman.com