On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.
More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.
At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.
If I remember correctly in the last few years I have read a total-including this one-three book that include a circus setting. These stories capture my attention for many reasons. Especially when the story takes place during the depression era in the early 20th Century. The Life She Was Given has a uniqueness to the story unlike the others I have read before it. It should be obvious what it is by reading the book description.
Normally, when I read stories this good, I devour it in a couple of days but I decided to savory this one. During the 1930’s and into the 40’s, the circus struggled to stay open due to the depression. Often times they had to make tough choices and this story shows some of that. Often times they were cruel, heartbreaking and unnecessary decisions. I have to say that ignorance plays a big part in the decisions. Another theme in this story was the “freak Show,” and how these extraordinary people were treated. There are several other themes to this story that moved me and really portrays how cruel life can be. We all have many things to learn from this story and I highly recommend people read this book.
Wiseman’s ardent portrayal of an era, subject and setting, sets the stage for an unforgettable read.
I have rated this book five stars.
Stephanie M. Hopkins