She’ll be feeble-minded, no more intelligent than a dog. The hardship she will bring to your family- women never realize the impact that raising an imbecile has on a marriage. On the other children. You must think of your son.
October 1969, Ginny Richardson gives birth to a baby girl born with Down Syndrome. While still in a haze from the drugs administered, the doctor, her husband and his family make the decision to send Lucy away to Willowridge, a school that can serve the ‘many many challenges’ she will face. Some of which, they convince her, are heart defects, vision and hearing difficulties just to name a few. She will never be a normal child, she will never be able to interact, no better than a dog, there is no point in being involved in the child’s life. It’s too late to protest, it’s all been arranged, the child is already gone.
Life goes on, Ginny raises her first-born son Peyton while Ab’s time is eaten up by working for his father’s firm, the path set for him to become district attorney. No one runs her family quite like her overbearing father-in-law, the force behind her husband Ab’s rise. All of that is about to be threatened when her friend Marsha calls to inform her that Willowridge, the very “school” institution her baby Lucy was placed in, is being sued after a local reporter in Amherst went undercover, exposing the horrors within. Ginny’s first thought it “Ab can fix this”, he has the legal knowledge, the power of his family… surely he will know what to do, he won’t risk their own child being abused, living in the squalid conditions the exposé revealed, will he? Maybe her own marriage should be examined, maybe she doesn’t really know her husband at all.
With the support from her friend Marsha, she will journey to the school and see for herself just what is going on, visit her child for the first time in two years since she was taken away, her father-in-law be damned! Imagine the shock when Lucy isn’t quite the ‘feeble minded child’ they swore she would be. Naturally readers will be horrified at the very idea of a mother giving up, and without a lick of fight, her own newborn baby girl. Times were different, I remember my mother telling me how poorly she was treated as a young mother in 1971 when she birthed my sister, how condescending doctors could be, and that’s with a healthy delivery. It was a lot less inviting and open as it is today, women were often put in a ‘twilight sleep’, and it was a sterile, surgical setting then, a far cry from birthing rooms now where family can support you. Doctors were far more authoritative, patients were in the dark often and it is no surprise women would cave to their ‘superior knowledge’. It’s hard coming from a time where we are swamped with knowledge and advocates, fierce about the rights of those with special needs to fathom how a mother can be talked out of keeping her child, but it happened. Ginny bends to her husband and his father, highly educated men themselves are sold on the idea that all hope is lost and it’s impossible to keep such a child alive… in fact, they are sure baby Lucy is lucky if she lives only a few years. If she does survive, surely it will only be because of the full care she will receive at Willowridge, care and time Ginny and Ab could no way manage to give their needy child. Ginny has no reason to not believe them.
The truth is, such a child shames her father-in-law, doesn’t fit in with his perfect family. The beauty of the novel is the moments Ginny begins to fall in love with her little girl and finds the courage to fight for her even with every resource out of her reach, the law and family against her. Her husband infuriated me through much of the novel, but how do people become victims? They are often raised under the thumbs of tyrannical parents, cowered, lacking confidence, certainly it seems that Ab, despite his success is still trying to attain his father’s respect. Ab isn’t the only one in the family who has submitted to his father’s rule.
When Ginny learns the secret of who the people defending Willowridge against the parents who have filed a class action suit are, her fury grows. How can she fight when the law isn’t on her side, when she doesn’t have money. Despite this swell of love for her child, so too does she love her husband, her six-year-old son Peyton and her good life, but sometimes you have to make a choice, especially when your child has no voice of their own! People are either with you, or they are against you. Sometimes, you have to find the strength to go against those who know best.
These are imperfect characters, and shamed by their choices. The truth is, the only characters my love went to was Lucy and Peyton. I would love to see a lot more interaction between them, he went from being an only child to suddenly being big brother to a special little girl who will need him for the rest of her life. It’s a unique relationship. I think I would have liked to see more fight against husband and wife, I wanted to see Ginny in all her avenging glory, especially towards her father-in-law, but maybe that’s just my thirst for drama and justice. Ginny was too much the type of woman who just floated along and let others decide everything and I can’t think of a horror worse than that. I just couldn’t understand how in two years, as a mother, she didn’t go visit her child. I understand she was bullied into giving her up, but in all that time after the birth she wouldn’t be raging against being denied the chance to see her? Feeble minded or not, hell couldn’t keep me away from my child. It would eat away at my mind, soul every day of my life. It’s hard to relate to such a weak character, but at least she finally finds some backbone.
Strange, our throw away society, that takes anyone who is different and tries to forget they exist at all. Times are changing, in many parts of the world, but the true horror is that abuses happen all the time, not just to children with special needs, but to the elderly and ill more often than we want to admit. This novel will be a great choice for serious discussion.
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
St. Martin’s Press