Publication Date: October 30, 2014
JWD Press Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Iona Mueller arrives alone at the Willard Asylum for the Insane in this epic tale that spans a century. Through the Mueller family we take a deep look at what it means to be mentally ill in the year 1915 and in the present day. By the time she reached fifteen years old, Iona had failed to become a “proper young lady” which profoundly concerned her parents. Her one and only friend, Hetty, the family maid, warned her not to disobey them but Iona couldn’t help herself. Iona’s quirk of counting steps may have been overlooked but when her mother and father learned of her exploits in the woods near her home in Ithaca, New York, she was taken to the town doctor. The doctor took one look at her self-cut short, mangled hair, learned of her bizarre behavior, and declared her insane. At Willard Asylum on Seneca Lake there were plenty of activities to occupy her, including the job she procured working in the barn. Besides, she knew she was not anything like the crazy patients that banged their heads against the cinder walls until they bled or ran naked through the hallways. She was disobedient, that was true, and she would change. If only her parents would accept her correspondence and allow her to return home. Iona’s new roommate, Cat, made every night a fight for survival. When Iona was caught trying to run away she was sent to the second ward, where her fate was sealed. Subject to tranquilizers and hydrotherapy, ice baths and physical beatings, Iona had only one thing on her mind. She had to stay away from the back building. Once you were placed there you were never seen again. Iona met James at the institution’s barn. His kindness made the deprivation more bearable. He recognized that the violet hollows beneath her eyes, the bruises on her arms, and her apparent unraveling were the effect of the second ward. A plan was put into place, one that would remove Iona from harm’s way permanently. In present day, it is Jenna, a young relative of Iona’s, who is plagued with mental illness. Jenna’s odd behaviors, bizarre language, and confusion disrupt her once perfectly normal life. Jenna’s family members trace their roots back to Iona in hopes of understanding their predisposition to mental illness. The journey leads them to an amazing discovery of the suitcases left behind by hundreds of patients at the Willard Asylum.
The Back Building by Julie Dewey is an excellent read. I was hooked as soon as I started reading it! I’ve always had an interest in how mentally ill patients were treated in the past. I knew through reading different internet articles or books, that they were not treated well, and this book definitely highlights that. Iona’s experience in the Willard Hospital for the Insane is horrible. She was lucky to have survived what she went through. Despite some of the problems that Iona had, she was a very strong woman who was able to live through some devastating occurrences that some women might not have been able to pull through.
The characters in this book were very well written, and you could really relate to them. As a reader you were hoping for Iona to pull through everything, and to achieve happiness. You felt pure anger and hatred towards the nurse, Patty. And, there were a lot of mixed feelings towards one of the other patients, Cat. The author also really gives readers the full sense of what was happening at some of these institutions. Iona talks about seeing women laying naked in the hall with dead eyes. The other patients talk about women who go into the back building and are never seen again. It was definitely a terrifying place, especially for someone as young as Iona.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I was a little frustrated about how Iona’s story just ended abruptly, and all of a sudden I was reading the story of her great-granddaughter Jenna. Two generations were skipped, and the story of her life didn’t seem to have an ending for me. There was no leading up to it, just all of a sudden it was part two, and I was reading the modern day story of her great granddaughter’s struggle with mental illness. At first I didn’t know who I was reading about. I assumed I was reading about her daughter, then I thought maybe it was her granddaughter, finally I realized it was Iona’s GREAT granddaughter that I was now reading about! That was a little frustrating for me. Also, I felt like the dialogue between James and Iona was at times a little forced. It just did not seem to flow as smoothly as I would think dialogue would between lovers. It was almost “too” much, like trying too hard or something?
Anyways, overall I really did like the book, and I would definitely recommend it. I give this book a FOUR out of FIVE stars!
Buy the BookAmazon
About the AuthorJulie Dewey is the author of four novels, including Forgetting Tabitha: The Story of an Orphan Train Rider, One Thousand Porches, The Back Building, and Cat, Book 1 of the Livin Large Series. Two have been on Amazon’s Top 100 Book List. She resides in Central New York with her husband and two children. For more information please visit Julie Dewey's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook.
The Back Building Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, December 22
Review at 100 Pages a Day - Stephanie's Book Reviews
Wednesday, December 24
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, December 26
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Saturday, December 27
Spotlight at Broken Teepee
Monday, December 29
Review at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, December 30
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, December 31
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Obsession