Mental health has been a hot topic in our society these days. We have a long, long way to go in improving the lives and care of those that struggle with mental illness. However, after reading Lucy Strange’s book, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, it is clear that we have made some progress. After all, we are no longer locking people up in insane asylums and allowing doctors to put these patients through torturous experiments.
The setting of this book is taking place in America during 1919. Our main character, Henrietta, and her family have just moved to Hope House for the summer. It is the hope of Henrietta’s father that Hope House will offer the family some fresh air and a chance for Mama to recuperate after a horrible tragedy has taken the life of Henrietta’s older brother. But, Father avoids the realities of Mama’s “illness,” and he quickly leaves Henrietta, her baby sister, and Mama behind under the care of the overly busy, Nanny Jane. With Father off to tend to his job duties abroad, Mama under the weather, and Nanny Jane completely distracted by the new baby sister, Henrietta is left to fend for herself.
All on her own, Henrietta begins to explore Hope House and the woods around them. Through her adventures, she discovers shadows and a mysterious lady in the woods. As life in her family begins to collapse due to her mother’s illness and father’s absence, Henrietta finds herself having to depend on this unique stranger to try to save the future of her family.
As I was reading The Secret of Nightingale Wood, the dark realities of mental illness in the early 1920’s just baffled me. Clearly, Mama is mourning the loss of her son. She is a mother that is grieving to the deepest ends of her soul, and the only way the family, and doctor, knows how to help her is to provide her strong sleeping pills for days and days. These pills eventually cause hallucinations and prevent her from any chance of recovery. Once, Mama’s fate looks like its sealed and headed for the insane asylum, our young Henrietta swoops in to try to save her.