THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN by Ellen Marie Wiseman been named a 2017 Great Group Reads selection by the Women’s National Book Association and the National Reading Group Month Committee!
From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.
On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow.
More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.
At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction…until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.
“Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope. “Wiseman has crafted a can’t-put-it-down novel of family secrets involving two young girls who only seek to be loved. Perfect for book clubs and readers who admired Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants.”– Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
“Ellen Marie Wiseman gathers potent Gothic elements in The Life She was Given to examine the impact of child abuse across generations. A sumptuous plot balances horror and tenderness to reveal lesser-known facets of history… The Life She was Given is a vibrant maze of desires. The sharp divide between expectations and painful truths, mothers and daughters, past and present, culminate in a sensational finale.” – ForeWord Reviews
“A powerful, poignant novel.” – In Touch, Grade A
“Ellen Marie Wiseman is noted for capturing little known pockets of American life and depicting them with heart and insight; her latest novel may be her most harrowing yet…The author’s in-depth knowledge of traveling circuses and “freak shows” of the era is evident. The novel seamlessly blends mystery and history with compelling and well-researched details. The two women in the book, though separated by time, demonstrate resilience in the face of despair. Thematic elements include religious extremism; the many forms of love; and strength under adverse circumstances.” – The Historical Novels Review
“Wiseman has created two equally enticing story lines that gradually reveal the commonalities between them. This well-crafted novel provides rewards throughout.” – Publishers Weekly
“The lives of a 1930s circus performer and a 1950s runaway daughter intersect at an upstate New York horse farm.”– Kirkus Reviews
“A novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.” – Bookbub
“Wiseman excels at creating an atmosphere…Her characters are all vividly drawn and complex, especially Lilly’s abusive mother, Coralline. But at the heart of Wiseman’s tale of loss and redemption are Lilly and Julia, connected in spirit by their determination to overcome years of pain and sorrow. Fans of Karen White and Sara Gruen will be drawn in by the drama and mystery of Wiseman’s novel.” – BookPage
“I loved this book!…The unpredictable ending was gut wrenching, but in a way that made sense, given the entirety of the book.” – Shirley Cagle, Northshire Bookstore
“Wiseman did another wonderful job with her research of this time period, while interweaving some true events from history throughout her book.” – The Red Deer Advocate
Praise For The Novels Of Ellen Marie Wiseman
“Wiseman offers heartbreaking and historically accurate depictions. . . . The richly developed coal town acts as a separate, complex character; readers will want to look away even as they’re drawn into a powerful quest for purpose and redemption . . . a powerful story.” —Publishers Weekly
“This book will attract readers of historical fiction and those looking for strong female characters.” —VOYA Magazine
“Heartrending and strongly drawn.” –Booklist
“Ellen Marie Wiseman takes readers deep into the politics and hidden atrocities of a 20th-century Pennsylvania mining town.” –BookPage.com
What She Left Behind
“A great coming-of-age story.” —School Library Journal
“A great read!” —The San Francisco Book Review
The Plum Tree
“The meticulous hand-crafted detail and emotional intensity of The Plum Tree immersed me in Germany during its darkest hours and the ordeals its citizens had to face. A must-read for WWII Fiction aficionados—and any reader who loves a transporting story.” –Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
“Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a story of intrigue, terror, and love from a perspective not often seen in Holocaust novels.” —Jewish Book World
“Ellen Marie Wiseman’s provocative and realistic images of a small German village are exquisite. The Plum Tree will find good company on the shelves of those who appreciated Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian, Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, and Night, by Elie Wiesel.” —New York Journal of Books