Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Degenerates!
Title: The Degenerates
Author: J Albert Mann
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 17 March 2020
Genres: YA Historical Fiction
In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life.
The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Warnings: ableism and patient abuse, police brutality, depiction of self-harm and mentions of suicidal ideation, miscarriage and infant death, homophobia
When I started this book, I did not know how much I would come to love these characters and their stories. About four girls institutionalized and considered feeble-minded by the ‘science’ of their time, it is a story that talks about dehumanization of those considered different from society, as well as how much things can be done together. The institutionalization of young women is something I’ve come across before in historical fiction, but this is the most realistic perspective of it, and it would be, considering the research Mann has put into it. At the start, the direction of the plot was unclear, but we get to know these girls- three of them: Alice, and the sisters Rose and Maxine, who have been living there since childhood, while London is the one who is new, and shakes things up – and their grim lives in the facility where they are treated as sub-human and face contempt from the staff, if not outright punishments in the form of solitary confinement. London wants out, immediately, because she has her foster mother to get back to, and Rose gets pulled into her scheme, and soon Maxine and Alice.
The story is told through their points of view, and their personal stories resonate with hurt and abandonment, yes, but the overall tone of the story is also hopeful. Maxine is probably the one of them who hopes for a better future the most. Rose’s fascination with London and London adoring her was cute; while Rose has an older sister, she is also taken care of by London and Alice. Alice, who is one of two black girls in the institute, is understandably cautious and wary and her love for Maxine brings down her walls. London is, well, a bit cynical, but a lot scrappy and has street smarts, which makes her a great catalyst for the girls to hope getting out instead of just moving on to the next stage of their stay, which is filled with uncertainty as Alice and Maxine will age out of their current section. The writing beautifully built up these characters and gets you to love them so much, and the plot takes us through the ups and downs of their plans, so it is an engaging read that moves at a good pace. The ending leaves us a bit open-ended, but also gives us a happy-ish conclusion.
Is it diverse? queer black disabled main character (Alice), character with Down’s Syndrome (Rose), queer character (Maxine), non-white minority (for that time) character (London)
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Netgalley.
“They could star at Alice every minute of the day until she took her last breath, but they’d never catch a whiff of her most precious possession, her only possession.”
“Rose knew a lot of things people thought she didn’t. She knew she and her sister were in a place for sick people. She knew she and her sister weren’t sick, and that most of the kids who surrounded her weren’t sick.”
“Past this, London didn’t allow herself to think or plan. Not being the hopeful type, she was also not one to believe things could work out differently from the way she saw them working out all around her every day.”
“…she dreamed of the house by the sea…even if London had told her Chicopee was inland. There’d be a river for sure, or a lake or a pond. She didn’t need the smell of salt – the ripples on the water would be enough. Moving water, Alice’s hand in hers, and Rose.”
J Albert Mann is the author of six novels for children, with S&S Atheneum Books for Young Readers set to publish her next work of historical fiction about the Eugenics Movement and the rise of institutionalism in the United States. She is also the author of short stories and poems for children featured in Highlights for Children, where she won the Highlights Fiction Award, as well as the Highlights Editors’ Choice Award. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and is the Director of the WNDB Internship Grant Committee.
Jennifer is represented by Kerry Sparks at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.
Win (1) copy of THE DEGENRATES by J. Albert Mann (US Only)
Giveaway runs from March 11 to March 25, 2020. Please note that only 1 copy is being given across all blogs/instagram accounts.
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