I’ve written about it here before (probably years ago now), but I will pretty much read any book that has anything to do with Nellie Bly. I first learned about her in an abnormal psychology class in college and I have been interested in her ever since.
So when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. And luckily, it was exactly what I wanted it to be! Let’s discuss!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.
For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It’s an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.
From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a rollicking historical adventure series about the outrageous intrigues and bold flirtations of the most famous female reporter—and a groundbreaking rebel—of New York City’s Gilded Age.
You pretty much learn everything you need to know from the synopsis. Nellie is trying to get into journalism in New York and to do so, she decides to do a stunt (put herself into a story/make a story happen). What is her idea? To get committed to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island and report on the conditions there.
What she finds is…horrifying, to say the least. And at some point, she worries she will never get out. Worries that the editor who agreed to take her story won’t come and get her released. But, as we know, that doesn’t happen. She is released and reveals to the world what the women at Blackwell’s go through every day and the incompetence and misogyny that put them there.
Maya Rodale, in my opinion, got Nellie’s personality and voice perfectly. Nellie is stubborn and determined and willing to do anything to make her dream come true. But she’s also very empathetic. Because of how much she feels for the women at the asylum (and because she knows how easily she could have ended up being one of them), she makes sure to remember everything she witnesses and experiences herself.
I don’t know if Nellie would call herself brave but I will. To put yourself in an extremely dangerous situation to make sure voiceless people have their voices heard…that’s brave and courageous. And one of the reasons why I admire her so much.
I will say that the scenes in the asylum can be difficult to read so be careful if that’s something you know will bother you. What the women go through…well, I would call it torture.
More specifically, there is a scene right before Nellie is about to leave the asylum that, for me, was the most difficult scene. Nellie pretty much gets waterboarded although it might not have been called that back then. So…be careful!
I should also mention that the book isn’t only from Nellie’s point of view. It switches between her point of view as well as the point of view of her rival Sam Colton and another lady reporter, Marian Blake. It was really fun to see how they viewed things and what they were doing while Nellie was at the asylum. It also gives the reader a short break from being in the asylum which I really appreciated.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. Because of how much I love Nellie Bly and her story, there is kind of no way I wouldn’t love it lol. I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars. If you like historical fiction that’s based on real history, you definitely want to check out The Mad Girls of New York!
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the free eARC in exchange for my honest review.