While people today speak more freely about mental illness, less than a hundred years ago people kept their family secrets. Or they put their family secrets in a mental institution. No one has immunity from cancer, a perfect storm can cause it to leap to life. How we treat it matters. Likewise, no one has immunity from mental illness. A perfect storm of heredity, circumstance, and attitude can erupt in a mental illness diagnosis. How we treat it matters.

No one has immunity from cancer, a perfect storm can cause it to leap to life. How we treat it matters. Likewise, no one has immunity from mental illness. A perfect storm of heredity, circumstance, and attitude can erupt in a mental illness diagnosis. How we treat it matters. #mentalillnessawarenessweek #mentalillness

The Bright Unknown

Elizabeth Byler Younts, Thomas Nelson, October 22, 2019, 368 pages.

For the first 18 years of her life, Brighton Freidrich lives in a mental institution—and not because she has a mental deficiency. Surrounded by her mother and other women living in their minds, Brighton has little statistical chance of turning out normal.

But Nursey, one of the few employees at Riverside Home for the Insane who genuinely cares about Brighton, tries to make her life as normal as possible within the sterile walls of an institution. And finding Angel helps.

Angel, who came to the children’s ward when he turned three, suffers from albinism. And in the 1930s, people saw albinism, deafness, blindness, and physical defects as a sign of mental deficiencies as well. Nursey, and the kindly Dr. Woburn, make it possible for the two children to form a friendship, flouting the strict rules of the hospital.

Brighton and Angel’s lives turn into a pattern of meager meals, hidden books, and learning all they can despite the lack of educational opportunities. When Angel turns 18, Brighton overhears plans to send him to Orchard Row, and she vows to save him from the terrors that she knows await him there.

When she threatens Nursey in order to save Angel, she suddenly finds herself no longer the golden girl of the ward. For the first time, she experiences the degrading treatments that other inmates withstand—restraints, insulin shots, a shaved head, a camisole, and solitary confinement.

A Dead Girl Lives

In solitary, she meets Grace, a girl about her age, who teaches her about the outside world and gives her hope that she won’t always live out her life within the four walls of the institution. After the two girls get out of solitary, they blackmail a nurse into bringing them film for Grace’s camera. Together they document life inside.

No one has immunity from cancer, a perfect storm can cause it to leap to life. How we treat it matters. Likewise, no one has immunity from mental illness. A perfect storm of heredity, circumstance, and attitude can erupt in a mental illness diagnosis. How we treat it matters. #mentalillnessawarenessweek #mentalillness

One day, when Grace’s family comes for her, or by some miracle Brighton gets out, they hope to show the world the pictures of the people they love who live, suffer, and die at Riverside.

As the months pass and Grace’s father shows no sign of allowing her release, Brighton, Angel and Grace start planning their escape. Brighton uncovers more secrets about her past—including an envelope with her death certificate in it.

And as the months pass, hope shrinks likes the shadows when the sun sets. Will Brighton ever have an opportunity to tell the stories of her friends?

Who Will Enjoy this Book

Once again, Younts weaves an intimate, richly-textured tale that wraps around the reader like a shawl. I found myself glancing up in surprise that the sun shone in through unbroken windows, and the screams only echoed from the pages of the book.

While our understanding of mental illnesses has changed significantly in the past century, I know the pain that people feel. Those with mental illnesses still suffer from discrimination and misunderstanding. They haul their diagnosis around like a ball and chain.

The Bright Unknown will make readers question all they thought they knew about mental illness and the sadness that lives inside each of us.

One of the best books I've read this year #TheBrightUnknown by #ElizabethBylerYounts from @ThomasNelson. Don't miss it! #mentalillnessawarenessweek #fiction #amreading Click To Tweet

I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.