A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publishing Date: October 6
Genre: young adult, historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
If being silent over a terrible secret makes Grace Mae a madwoman, then she’ll resign to the title and live peacefully away from the man who made her life a living hell. She’s discovered by criminal psychologist, one who looks at crime scenes differently from the police and helps nab the culprit. With Grace’s help, they work together within an ethical Ohio asylum to hunt down a murderer who stalks and rapes young women. In doing so, Grace’s past comes back to haunt her, and the madness she didn’t think she was capable of takes hold.
“Sometimes the loveliest places harbor the worst monsters.”*
Holy wow, the triggers. This is one incredibly dark, twisted YA that grapples with the definition of sanity. Rape is a prevalent topic, and assault is detailed, so if either of these bother you, then approach this book with caution.
“[…] I’ve smelled you, smelled the wrongness of all that’s been done to you by hands familiar and those of strangers. You chose to stop acknowledging a world that has treated you foully. What’s saner than that?”
Grace’s journey as a rape victim and a woman wrongly placed in an insane asylum, is absolutely remarkable. My favorite moments in this book are when she and Dr. Thornhollow discuss insanity. I find it one of the most fascinating things in history, the way psychologists treated humans in the beginning years, how it’s changed, how it’s more ethical now than then, how we still put such stigma on individuals with mental illness or who are different from the “norm.” Toss in the fact Grace, a woman, is considered insane, dull, and “not all there,” the men in her life (apart from Thornhollow) treat her as less than property.
“Most men are always so proper in the presence of a lady. To hear men speak to other men as they would if I weren’t there was enlightening.”
“And not to my gender’s credit, I’m sure,” Thornhollow said. “However, what you say is true and part of the reason why I agreed to take you with me from Boston in the first place. Your mind is quick, your attention to detail established, your memory infallible. But the bandages on your forehead — and the scars that will form — provide the perfect cover for all your assets. It’s established; you’re insane.”
“And therefore I am not human,” Grace finished for him.
There’s a whole array of colorful characters in this book! My favorites include Nell — her lovely Irish accent and sexual “forwardness,” the way she’d tease other characters but also protect them from her disease — and Thornhollow’s sister Adelaide — a liberated woman in high society who is incredibly blunt about feminism and the rights of women. Both women are brusque in manner, with very similar personalities and mindsets, but one remains outside the walls of an asylum (three guesses who!) and one is trapped within. Even by today’s standards, which woman would you declare sane?
“Cover yer ears, lassies, then hit the boards.” Nell said, a split second before putting her fingers in her mouth and letting out a wolf whistle. Grace dropped to the roof, dragging Elizabeth down next to her. Nell fell in a pile of skirts, red-faced with laughter.
“Nell!” Elizabeth gasped. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinkin’ it’s a lovely night, and ‘e’s a good-lookin’ man who don’t ‘ave no one to tell ‘im so. So I did, and damned if ‘e didna look straight up ‘ere as if ‘e knew there’s be someone in the turret.”
Elizabeth is another wonderful character that Grace befriends in the Ohio asylum. She’s locked away because she listens to String, a presence invisible to all but her, who knows and sees everything. Elizabeth relies on String to understand people, although the nurses in the asylum are sure Elizabeth is just a very observant individual who uses String as a crutch or excuse. But then there are moments when Elizabeth exposes the truth about a person’s history, without that person having divulged it, ever. It makes you wonder — is String real? Or is she really that in tune with humanity?
“Just because I’m insane doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Elizabeth said.
Finally, Dr. Thornhollow. What an individual. And what an opportunity for Grace to fall in love and forget her entire past and the scars it left behind, an opportunity for a scientific man to crack open his shell and break free and fall in love. Thank goodness McGinnis did not go that route! Thornhollow and Grace acknowledge the other is attractive, and they put up with plenty of teasing from colleagues and friends, but they are not in love. Not once. This completely platonic working relationship is a breath of fresh air in YA, and incredibly fitting for the time and place of this book.
“There is more to you than beauty. There is more to you than strength. There is more to you than intelligence. You are a whole person, and I would have you treat yourself as such.”
Have I convinced you yet of the greatness of this book?
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Katherine Tegen Books for review!
*quotes taken from uncorrected proof.
This book fulfills 4 of 7 #ARCAugust reads.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “A Madness So Discreet” by Mindy McGinnis (ARC)”
Alexa S. (@alexalovesbooks)
WHOA. A MADNESS SO DISCREET sounds crazy intense, and not necessarily in a way that I wouldn’t like! While I’m not quite rushing off to grab a copy for myself, I do find myself curious about the aspects of it you’ve mentioned, particularly the parts about insanity and the perspective of a rape victim. That definitely is something I don’t read too much of, so it would be a way to broaden my horizons if I read this book!
If you’re ever in the mood this winter (assuming you read by mood/season…I tend to do that), definitely grab a copy from the library and see if it’s for you. I told Mindy the first couple chapters was like watching a car wreck, but in a compelling way, because it’s just so hard and emotional from its emotionless beginning. Does that make sense? If you do read it, let me know!