Y’all! The Degenerates will punch you in the heart. It’s F/F (yay gay characters!), very well-written, and will make you fall in love with just about every character. Do I need to say more? (I also cried at the end to no one’s surprise)
I’m so ecstatic I’m able to be on this blog tour. This book is the YA version of so many books that changed my life, so I could not be happier it exists for teen readers and also for me!
As you scroll through the post, make sure to check out the synopsis, my review, and THE GIVEAWAY! Let’s get started!
by J. Albert Mann
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 17th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, 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.
THIS. BOOK. I knew going in that The Degenerates was going to hurt. Four girls stuck in a “school” in the early 1900s where they’re labeled based on the ways they don’t fit society’s standard of what’s “normal.” My heart! I know enough about asylums during this time period to know things were not going to be any better in this situation.
(The book is compared to Girl, Interrupted, but I also saw bits of The Bell Jar in it too.)
But as bad as things get (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the bond between the girls is what makes everything else bearable. They are hurt, humiliated, abused, neglected, and yelled at, but if they can just get to a certain point in the day when they’re alone or when they can see their friends, they can make it another day.
Let’s start with the characters because that’s really the only way I can describe how great this book is.
London. London is my girl. London is the girl I related to most. She is sent to The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded because she’s pregnant. Yep, you read that right. She’s 14 and pregnant so she is sent away.
London is an Italian orphan, brought to the US for a better life with her parents who end up dying. Now, after being dragged out of her last foster home, she is taken to the school. But don’t worry, she has no intention of staying. London is a fighter. She fights the cops, she fights the attendants, and she has no problem fighting the bullies at the school. I wouldn’t normally call a 14-year-old a badass bitch, but that’s London.
That doesn’t mean London doesn’t have a softer side, though. She forms a very strong relationship with another student named Rose and eventually, shows she is a true nurturer. I loved every minute of London’s story.
Maxine. Maxine was sent to the school (along with her sister, Rose), by her mother. Why? I won’t give away the particulars, but Maxine was sent away because she likes girls. This does not stop her from liking girls (shocker, I know!)
Maxine is a protector, especially for Rose. She refuses to let anything happen to her even if it means she gets in trouble and is sent to what the girls call “the cages.”
Maxine is a bit of a dreamer as well. She likes to dream of what life would be like outside the school and how her, Rose, and her friends will live happily one day. I love this about her.
Maxine is also in love with Alice, another girl at the school. They have their own language together. Staring at each other without the staff or bullies seeing them, skin touching for only a second, and subtly taking care of each other and Rose. Maxine and Alice show that even in the darkest of places love can still exist. (excuse me while I sob)
Alice. Alice was brought to the school by her brother. We never really learn his reason. Perhaps it was to have one less mouth to feed? Or maybe he didn’t want to deal with her clubfoot?
At the school, Alice is one of only two black girls, keeps herself to herself, and is very much in love with Maxine. She’s also able to read people without them saying a word. She knows when Rose is scheming, she knows when Maxine is depressed or happy (or scheming), and she sees the fight in London way before anyone else.
Rose. My sweet, sweet Rose. It’s unclear whether Rose was sent to the school because of Maxine or whether she would’ve been sent anyway due to her Down syndrome. Rose is smarter than any of the adults (and probably most of the girls) know. She loves to steal. Food, clothes, money…anything. It’s fun. People underestimate her and she uses that to her advantage.
When London arrives, Rose could not be more excited. Someone new! When London attempts to escape the first night she’s there, that makes Rose like her even more. It becomes Rose’s mission to help London escape by any means she can. The whole time I was borderline anxious that something might happen to Rose. She is a devious cinnamon roll and I did not want her hurt.
Together, the girls do everything they can to take care of each other and try to make it through each day without being noticed by the staff.
The Degenerates is rough. I won’t lie to y’all. It’s difficult to see these girls society deemed unworthy go through so many awful things. But it’s their relationships, the light moments they grasped when no one’s looking that makes those hard moments worth getting through.
The book is also split between the four girls’ POVs and I absolutely loved it. I loved reading each character’s perspective and learning what they were thinking vs. what the other characters thought they were thinking. It’s what makes multiple POVs one of my favorite book things/writing devices ever.
Ok, trigger warning time! There’s a semi-descriptive miscarriage scene, lots of ableist insults (as I’m sure you can imagine), death of a baby (besides the miscarriage), and a pretty big fire (I know that’s a trigger for some).
The Dengerates is incredibly well-written. If you’ve ever tried to write a multiple POV story, you know how hard it is. It feels effortless here. And do not even get me started on the character development. It’s so well done I could cry. It’s done in such a subtle way over the course of the book that you (or maybe it’s just me) don’t realize it’s happening until you look back and are like OMG! THE GROWTH!
I’m giving The Dengerates by J. Albert Mann 4 out of 5 stars.
It comes out on March 17, 2020.
Thank you to Atheneum Books for Young Readers for the eARC and the physical ARC in exchange for my honest review.
About the Author
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.
Prize: Win (1) copy of THE DEGENRATES by J. Albert Mann (US Only)
Starts: March 11th 2020
Ends: March 25th 2020