As a Christian woman, I was super excited when I received the galley for Elizabeth Byler Younts’ The Bright Unknown. I was further geeking out upon my receipt of it because it takes place in the 1940’s and I just love that era all together. Sometimes I really feel as though I was born too late, but then you read a story like this one and you’re reminded of how dark and unfair society could be back then, especially towards women…and even more so when those women were poor.
The Bright Unknown begins with Brighton explaining, “I’m not sure whom I should thank – or blame – for the chance to become an old woman. Though as a young girl, sixty-seven seemed much older than it actually is.” We open at the end of the story, but are quickly thrown back into Brighton’s life before her freedom, in a place that we come to know as a horrific, malevolent institution where the darkest sides of humanity pervaded for many years.
Born in the Riverside Home for the Insane in 1923, Brighton Friedrich’s life revolves around her unstable mother and her overall care. With little exposure to the real world, Brighton is ill-equipped for anything outside of the asylum’s walls and at times, the true nature of what really is within. Eventually, Brighton meets Grace Douglass, a young woman who is sent to the asylum by her parents for behavioral issues.
Just as naive as Brighton, Grace struggles to adjust to her life inside of the walls of the institution. Grace draws Brighton out into the world through her love of photography and the two soon grow close.
Staying true to the time, the therapies that destroyed people inside asylums in the 1940’s are at their peak use. Hydrotherapy, insulin shock, lobotomies…and so much more, are at the forefront of the treatment of patients. Brighton becomes driven to find a way to save herself and her friends from life in the asylum, eager to get the out and into a place where they can find piece. The Riverside Home for the Insane is not where these women belong and Brighton is determined to find her own life along side the people that she loves.
However, her unrest leads to a sudden change in how Brighton is treated by the staff and she goes from being a person to a patient. Undergoing the treatments that other have had, including insulin shock, sparks a fire in Brighton that sets her and Grace on a journey towards their own freedom. They grow up fast and hard, but their journey towards a new life is riveting and the overall prose of the novel keeps you engaged as you journey through the insanity that is an insane asylum in the 1940’s and the life that comes after.
“My driveway reminds me of the freedom I have to come and go as I please. Things were not always this way.”
The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts is scheduled to be released on October 22, 2019 from Thomas Nelson with ISBN 9780718075682. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.