Lilly Blackwood is a young girl that sees the world outside of her home (Blackwood Manner) through iron bars. She is locked in her room in the attic, with no mirrors, a few toys, and lots of religious paraphernalia. Despite being held prisoner in her own home, her mother insists that she should be grateful for what she has in life.
Then one evening, Lilly see the lights of a circus and dreams of being able to leave her room and seeing all the attractions and shows. The next day Mama unlocks the door, grabs Lilly by the arm, and leads her out into the world. Overcome with thoughts, Lilly suddenly finds herself standing in front of an unkempt man outside of the large circus tent. Mama hands him a wad of cash and just like that, Lilly now belongs to the circus sideshow.
“So you see, it all depends on which side of the fence you’re looking from.”
Decades later, we meet Julia Blackwood. Julia ran away after her father died in a drunk driving accident to which her strict Christian mother blamed her for. Julia now lives the life of living paycheck to paycheck in order to avoid landing up on the streets. One day a knock comes at Julia’s door and she learns that Mama died and Blackwood Manner is hers.
Back in the past, Lilly finds herself getting used to the idea of life in the circus. She finally feels like she belongs to a family despite them being “freaks.” With the help of a friend, Lilly finds that she has a way with elephants. Suddenly her small sideshow act is dead and she becomes one of the highest paid shows to see at the circus!
Flashing back and forth between the two women’s stories, we find that Julia is starting to put the pieces together at Blackwood Manner. She starts finding information about Lilly and the two worlds collide with a jaw-dropping ending.
Oh. My. God.
If you loved The Night Circus or Water For Elephants, run to your nearest bookstore and pick up The Life She Was Given. The setting and the personalities of the people make it feel like you are really at the circus so many decades ago. It is one of those books where the cameras are rolling in your mind like a movie. You see crystal clear the dust the elephant kicks up, to the antique desk drawers at Julia’s newly gained estate.
Wiseman does such a wonderful job describing the emotions of all the characters with showing not telling. You even feel “compassion” for the jerk that bought Lilly. The mom really got my blood boiling and if you know any person that takes religion to the extreme you know what Mama is like. Some might think that Wiseman is saying something about Christianity, but I don’t think it is anything to get upset about.
I like when authors make you think that you’ve got it all figured out halfway through the story. Then when the real truth comes at the end, it makes the book that much more exciting. I don’t want to give too much away in my review, but I did enjoy it a lot. I hope you do too!