About the Book
Book: The Bright Unknown
Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: October 22, 2019
Two young friends embark upon an epic journey across 1940s middle America in search of answers, a family, and a place to call home.
The only kind of life Brighton Turner understands is the one she has endured within the dreary walls of a rural Pennsylvania asylum. A nurse has thoughtfully educated and raised Brighton, but she has also kept vital information from her in order to keep her close. Brighton befriends a boy whom she calls Angel—he doesn’t know his name—and as the two of them learn more about what lies beyond the walls they call home, they fight for their release and eventually escape.
However, the world outside the only place they’ve ever known is not what they expect. They have no real names, no money, and no help—and they must rely upon the kindness of strangers as they walk and hitchhike from Pennsylvania to Michigan to find their last hope of a home.
This heartbreaking journey, narrated in gorgeous prose, explores what it means to belong—and to scour the universe with fresh eyes for the brightness within.
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Forgive me because I don’t believe I even have the words to do this novel justice. I finished a day ago and I’m still sitting in a book fog. There’s so much that I loved but can’t share to avoid spoilers, but this novel had me hook, line, and sinker from the very first chapter.
Although The Bright Unknown is marketed as historical romance, there is also an element of time-slip involved. The majority of the story is a look back on Brighton’s upbringing in the asylum. The mystery surrounding her presence there certainly had my mind racing considering all types of conspiracies. I was amazed how I was able to still be shocked and surprised as each piece of the puzzle was strategically revealed with impeccable timing. The other piece is Nell being forced to look back at her childhood in ways she never expected yet she seems to find a sense of healing through her own painful past.
I appreciated the attention that this book brought to mental health and how it was handled in the past. One quote that really stuck out to me was:
Don’t forget that thousand of souls lived and died there and were ostracized by society. Many are buried in the back corner because no one claimed their bodies. Don’t forget the history of what has happened at Riverside and other facilities like it, and don’t let history repeat itself. And when you meet someone who might struggle with mental illness, see the person behind the frightened eyes. Not just the diagnosis.
I think this quote exquisitely sums up the motivation for this piece. Through Brighton’s eyes you get a unique perspective on the many types of people who found themselves trapped in asylums. In many cases it was obvious they didn’t belong, but after barbaric procedures and drugs their very souls were irreparably crushed. I don’t remember the exact quote, but at one point Brighton mentioned that their souls died first and their physical bodies some time after. This novel was so masterfully written that you couldn’t help but see the heart of the people behind the eyes and the injustice they were powerless to fight.
This was not a fluffy story in any way, shape, or form. It will break your heart as you desperately cling to the threads of hope. I read this book while on a road trip with my husband and found myself trying to hide my face at the gas station so no one could see I was crying. I say all the time that a good book is one that makes me feel something, and this book had me sucked in so deeply that it seemed to blur the lines between reality and fiction.
Have your box of tissues handy but this is a read I highly, highly recommend. Elizabeth Byler Younts has quickly become a must-read author and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
*I received a copy of this book through CelebrateLit. Thoughts and opinions expressed are mine alone.
About the Author
Elizabeth Byler Younts gained a worldwide audience through her first book, Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Solace of Water and the Promise of Sunrise series. Elizabeth lives in Central Pennsylvania with her husband, her two daughters, and a small menagerie of well-loved pets.
More from Elizabeth
The Bright Unknown was born out of a seed of a true story that my husband’s grandmother, Gigi, shared with me. Gigi told me that when she was a young girl living in Oklahoma her mom had a friend who was a nurse. During one of her visits over coffee she would occasionally talk about her patients at the local asylum. One particular story really intrigued Gigi and even decades later she still remembered it. The story was about a patient who had a baby while at the hospital and while Gigi remembers nothing about the patient or the child, she knew that when she moved out of Oklahoma several years later that asylum-born girl was around eighteen and still living within the walls of that hospital along with her patient-mother.
That story stuck with me. This trapped girl and her mother wouldn’t let me go. I began to wonder over her and ask all sorts of unanswered questions. Slowly but surely my imagined story for her came to life. Layer after layer I learned about Brighton, my name for her. I also named two characters after Gigi, her first and middle, as an honor to her. This story was born from a memory but now these characters feel real and present in my life today and I hope you will journey with them in The Bright Unknown.
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