The Mad Girls of New York is interesting, vivid and inspiring historical fiction on real historical figure, an American journalist Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, known by her pen name Nellie Bly, who made her name and career by her “Ten Days in a Mad House” newspaper story.
The Mad Girls of New York (Nellie Bly #1) by Maya Rodale
Publication Date : April 26th 2022
Publisher : Berkley Books
Genre : Historical Fiction
Page : 336
Tea for this book : Green Tea
Disclaimer – Many thanks to publisher for sending e-copy via NetGalley. This doesn’t affect my review or rating.
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Fearless reporter Nellie Bly will stop at nothing to chase down stories that expose injustices against women—even if it comes at the risk of her own life and freedom—in this exciting novel inspired by the true story of one remarkable woman.
In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.
For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It’s an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.
From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a rollicking historical adventure series about the outrageous intrigues and bold flirtations of the most famous female reporter—and a groundbreaking rebel—of New York City’s Gilded Age.
The Mad Girls of New York is fantastic, motivating and inspiring first book in Nellie Bly series that revolves around how Nellie Bly started her investigative journalist career by going undercover as a patient at notorious insane asylum for women on Blackwell’s Island to get the inside story. The story is about sexism, struggle of Women in Journalism, Social discrimination of women, classism, life of Gilded Age Women, courage, sisterhood, and friendship.
Writing is engaging, vivid and compelling that takes us back to 1887 NY. The story is told in third person narrative mainly from Nellie’s POV. There are occasional perspectives of Nellie’s two rivals, Sam Colton and Marian Black.
I enjoyed the beginning of the book that gave clear picture of Nellie’s struggle as a new girl in city, trying to get a job in newspaper. It showed how amazing Nellie is with her ideas and still she is rejected and mocked at all big newspapers not given a chance for months. Her interviews with editors of big newspapers showed how absurd their opinions are about Women in Journalism.
After series of unfortunate events, she is desperate to get the job. By chance, she meets the female reporter from her dream newspaper, World, who help her pass the entry. Nellie is not going to pass the opportunity and takes the interview set for another man, Sam Colton. Not only the interview but his job too, making him angry and now that Sam knows about her assignment he gets the job from rival newspaper with assignment to steal her story.
It was interesting to read how she is going to prove herself mad to be admitted to Blackwell’s asylum, what she will discover there, will she have her story or Sam would beat her to it, and major concern of all how she is going to get out of the prison, can she trust editor of World to release her from asylum before it makes her mad.
Nellie is most interesting character. She is fiery, passionate, filled with energy, smart, kind, strong-willed, and resolute person. I was expecting her to be reckless with all this traits but she wasn’t. She knew what she is doing and she has always been careful with her next step. Her courage, fear, and emotions are well portrayed. I liked how will and determination kept her from succumbing to fear and madness of the asylum and how her time in asylum made her strong.
At some point, it felt like she couldn’t think beyond her story, she was possessive about it, and angry at her rivals but advice from fellow female journalists about ‘helping women and another person like her’ made her think above her dream and story. She learned a lot in this story and yet there is more space for her development for next books.
I enjoyed secondary characters, especially other female journalists. Harriet is ladies page reporter at World who helped Nellie and also instilled in her, “Women have to look after each other because no one else will.” Dorothy is black journalist writes for popular Black newpaper. Marian is my favorite of all. she is kickass ladies page journalist in Herald who wanted to be stunt reporter and get the first page story. She is cast from upper class society for her radical views and blunt nature but she landed on her feet. She has her resources and I loved how her ladies page story turned out more serious and took route towards front page. What I liked most about her is her sense of duty towards other women, ensuring safety of her resources is strong. It is even stronger than Nellie.
I liked friends Nellie made in asylum. The Praying Girl, Tillie, Princess, Mrs, Kisner, Elsie… they all had story and it was sad to read how they were admitted in asylum. Some characters added more tension to story like those mean nurses. And there is Sam Colton. I didn’t like him at first. It was fair he wanted to have payback but at the same time I didn’t like him for trying to steal Nellie’s story, for which she admitted herself to madhouse and going through all the trouble while all he did is follow and tried to get information from her. But I liked how knowing more about her and digging her story he started to care and fall for her.
Best part of the story is Blackwell’s asylum. It is atmospheric setting. I was literally horrified reading about the facility and conditions in there. It was easy to picture all the torture instruments even before Nellie started collecting information. Their ways of torture surpass all my imaginations. It’s not brutal and yet is soul breaking. It stole hope or any spirit and their will to live. I felt so much angry toward medical system, the nurses, and doctors who never tried to help or treat these women.
Even with author’s point towards how nurses weren’t paid enough or how thankless their task was, I didn’t feel for them. They all were cruel. Unlike original Nellie, author made fictional Nellie try to understand their cruelty, but anyone can see they didn’t have compassion. They outright believed all women desrved to be treated like that as they are insane but any normal person could see their was nothing worng with them. They just need care, space, proper treatment for their physical ailment, time to heal their emotional wounds, somebody to listen them that they are admitted against their will and by mistake.
Apart from the layer or struggle of women journalists and poor health system, there is also a subplot of society gossip and second marriage of a wealthy person. It was easy to guess that mystery. I wouldn’t even call it a mystery as I could tell what happened with that accident by 30% of the book and yet it was interesting to read Marian’s investigation on it and how she collected information and reached to conclusion. There is also layer of abusive marriage through Nellie’s mother’s story and why Nellie escaped Pittsburgh to seek job in NY newspaper. There is also small talk about early stage of women suffrage and classism.
This is a feminist story. I didn’t know this is based on real historical figures of New York’s gilded age until I read author’s note. There is even a short novel on “Ten Days in a Mad House by Nellie Bly”. Many characters in this book are based on real historical figures. Author kept most of the story same as historical facts by changing only few things. Author also included many other famous females of Gilded age and historical figures that came before and after Nellie’s time.
Climax is tense and touching. I liked what happened once Nellie is out of the madhouse along with revelation of second subplot of high society marriage. End is perfect, uplifting and lovely. I can’t wait to read more about Nellie’s adventure in next books.
Overall, The Mad Girls of New York is moving, inspiring, thought-provoking and fast-paced historical fiction on real historical figure of New York City’s Gilded Age.
I highly recommend this if you like,
Story on real Historical figure
Cutthroat compitition between newspapers
Theme of Women journalists and their struggle
Layer of poor health system, classism, sexism
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