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  • P L Jonas

Fascinating Facts - My Reviews of "Locked in Silence" and "The Second Life of Mirielle West." Similar but Different.

Recently, I read two novels that brought to light details of two institutions in the U.S. that I'd never known about. I thought it would be interesting to compare both before sharing my reviews of these excellently written historical fiction books.

Locked In Silence by Natalie Dyen (released 02/01/2024) shares the history of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA, the first fully solitary confinement prison in the U.S. The main character, Lizzy's storyline is set in 1848. I don't know how many of the public know this facility existed, but I was shocked it was still in use until 1971. If you are interested in more info go here.

The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore (released 07/27/2021) brings to life the true story of America's only leper colony in Carville, Louisiana, operational from 1894 to 2005. Skenandore's novel focuses on one patient, Mirielle's strange life as a leper in this colony in 1926. Here again, I knew virtually nothing about this facility and found it fascinating I had come across both of these books. For more info go here.

Dyen's approach to her story took me into the mind of Lizzy as she journaled daily about her incarcerated life. It is an emotionally charged and sad study, beautifully written and very detailed depiction of this facility during the mid-19th century. I felt I was right there with her in her tiny cell.

Skenandore takes a lighter approach showing the reader Mirielle's delusion and refusal to accept her condition which in the beginning was a bit humorous at times, despite the devasting details of the disease in other patients.

I appreciated both approaches and learned so much about this "hidden" history. Each story had similar resolutions in that there were journeys, investigations, secrets to uncover, and a satisfying ending. I highly recommend both books. Below are my official book reviews.

Locked in Silence by Natalie Dyen

A Riveting Story of Psychological Abuse, Betrayal, Loss, and Recovery

The book follows Lizzy, during her incarceration as she journals her daily life and struggles to remember the night of the birth of her baby. Author, Dyen, pulled me into the strange and insufferable world of the first fully solitary confinement prison in the U.S. I felt Lizzy’s agony as she experienced hallucinations and voices amidst the deafening silence. I was so relieved when she was finally released but worried her mind was lost from the horrific experience.

Fortunately, Lizzy reunites with her loving brother and he helps her reconnect with life and the world around her. Together, they investigate what happened the night Lizzy gave birth. What they discover baffles, shocks, and disgusts them.

Locked in Silence is a wonderfully written historical fiction set against the backdrop of pro-slavery and abolitionists, and the oppressive treatment of women of the times. Natalie Dyen paints an intense portrait of Lizzy’s life through her eyes and mind.

I highly recommend it. Link to Amazon

The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore

 When I first started reading this book, it took me a while to connect with the main character. A wealthy wife of a high-profile silent film star, Mirielle is in a deluded state when she is told she has leprosy and is carted off against her will across the country from California to Louisiana to the only official leper colony in the U.S.

It was funny and lighthearted on the surface. But once Mirielle comes to grips with her plight, it takes a serious turn. A strong character arc developed by Skenandore with a deeply developed cast of characters pulled me in and I was turning the pages not wanting to put the book down. I became involved with their lives and cared about their condition, cheering for them, and crying too.

I expect historical fiction to have richly depicted scenes to make me feel in the time and place. Although in my opinion, Skenandore did not spend much time in world-building, she made up for it through the story and characters she created, based upon her extensive research.

I highly recommend this book. Link to Amazon

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