☆☆➹⁀☆ 3 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆
What It’s About:
Dover, Massachusetts, 1969. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. That they should grieve for their daughter as though she were dead. That they should try to move on.
But two years later, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth–its squalid hallways filled with neglected children–she knows she can’t leave her daughter there. With Ginny’s six-year-old son in tow, Ginny and Marsha drive to the school to see Lucy for themselves. What they find sets their course on a heart-racing journey across state lines—turning Ginny into a fugitive.
For the first time, Ginny must test her own strength and face the world head-on as she fights Ab and his domineering father for the right to keep Lucy. Racing from Massachusetts to the beaches of Atlantic City, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a roadside mermaid show in Florida, Keeping Lucy is a searing portrait of just how far a mother’s love can take her.
Author T. Greenwood’s latest novel, Finding Lucy is a historical fiction that touches on the atrocities at Willowbrook State School in Staten Island New York. While I found the premise compelling, I did not fall in love with this book.
While many of us think of the 1960s and 1970s as being modern, the times were tumultuous and women were still struggling to have their voices heard. It is not far fetched that the youngish heroine, Ginny, had little say in the situation when her powerful father-in-law sends her Down-Syndrome-afflicted daughter, Lucy, to an institution. It was heart-wrenching for Ginny, but not unheard of during that era. Ginny represents the oppressed woman whose life is defined by the expectations of a good wife and the decisions of the men in her life. Her friend, Marsha represents the rebellious women who chose careers over marriage and family. Marsha is liberated, self-confident, and assertive. She is the instigator of change in Ginny’s life.
Once Marsha convinces Ginny that she must rescue Lucy from Willowridge School, the story takes a left turn (pun intended) and becomes a fantastic tale of an increasingly rash and desperate road trip (which many reviewers have likened to the movie Thelma & Louise). The characters might seem cliché, but Marsha and Ginny represent women of that era, and their character differences and experiences represent the social changes experienced by women in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I would have appreciated more exploration of the fictional Willowridge and the plight of the developmentally disabled during the era. I didn’t feel Ginny’s drive and determination to do what was right for her daughter. Perhaps that was a function of the author conveying Ginny’s feelings of powerlessness, but I needed an “Erin Brockovich” type character to make Keeping Lucy come alive.
My memories of visiting Agnews State Mental Hospital in Santa Clara, California (https://www.sjpl.org/blog/looking-back-agnews-state-hospital) as a young student or scout fueled my desire that Keeping Lucy would be a meatier read that addressed the conditions at institutions like <i>Willowridge</i> and the people who fought for change in the treatment of the developmentally disabled. Keeping Lucy isn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t the book I was looking for.
Willowridge School is based on the unfortunately real Willowbrook State School that was more of a dumping ground for developmentally disabled children than it was a school. Author T. Greenwood’s Keeping Lucy serves as a reminder of how far society has come and how much more is needed in terms the stigma of mental health conditions.
One source for more information on this infamous institution: https://timeline.com/willowbrook-the-institution-that-shocked-a-nation-into-changing-its-laws-c847acb44e0d
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