Cover Image: The Bright Unknown

The Bright Unknown

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts is a powerful, moving and heart breaking Christian historical tale. I am not ashamed to say that the tears fell as I read some of the truly horrifying scenes of great cruelty from those who were supposed to care for the most vulnerable.
The novel has two timelines – 1990 and 1937 moving forwards to 1941. It is told through the eyes of one woman born into the state asylum. The reader becomes completely entwined into the story as we witness the appalling and barbaric treatment. State asylums were places of great cruelty. People were incarcerated into them and left, abandoned by the world and their families in the misguided belief that it was ‘best’ for them. The world was a cruel place – people were placed into these institutions for terrible reasons as disability was not understood but feared and seen as a stigma. Women and children had few rights and these could be overridden by domineering males in society. “See the person behind the frightened eyes. Not just the diagnosis.” The inmates were all people in need of love, care and attention. They did not deserve to be treated so abominably.
The reader is horrified by the conditions, conditions that were seen as acceptable by those in charge at the time. There was no compassion or love.
Surprisingly there were friendships that flourished. Love, care and compassion were found among the patients. Bonds and promises were made that would last a lifetime.
We need to be aware of the words that we speak and the actions that we use. Both can have the effect of life or death for others. “When you’re treated like a worthless piece of flesh, eventually you believe it.” We sadly, live up or down to the opinion of others of us.
Hope can bloom in the darkest of places. “Darkness vanished when light touched it.” We need just a crumb of hope to cling to. Even on the darkest night, we can still see the stars.
Sometimes we feel abandoned by everyone and even wonder if God exists for us. “I prayed to a God I was sure was out there somewhere.” God never leaves us. He sees our pain.
The asylum was a prison with walls. Sometimes we erect our own walls and stay within them to be safe but we are our own jailer. We need to demolish these walls and begin to live in the freedom that God desires for us. We may cling to what we know but there is a big wide world beyond our walls just waiting for us.
The Bright Unknown broke my heart. The fact that people were treated so barbarically and cruelly in the twentieth century in a civilised country is just horrific. To counter this, there was a love that ran throughout the novel that warmed my heart.
I want to leave you with my favourite and most powerful quote. It comes from a character who steps into a church for the first time and sees a statue of Jesus on the cross:
“I couldn’t help him from his captivity, but I wondered if he could help me from mine.”
I received this book for free. A favourable review was not required and all views expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
One of the last passages in the The Bright Unknown is “A lot of bad had to happen for us to have all the good in our lives.” One thing I can definitely attest to is that a lot of bad happens in this story. Whether that was truly necessary in order for any good to occur – and whether the story needed to concentrate on the bad over the good – I am  less certain.

In 1927, Brighton Friedrich is born in the Riverside Home for the Insane. The daughter of an unwed, mentally ill young woman, Brighton is kept in her mother’s room under the excuse that it helps keep that lady calm. For years, all Brighton will know are the dingy walls of that institution. A nurse, Joann, nicknamed ‘Nursie’ by Brighton, becomes her substitute parent. With her own mother too sick to speak or even meet her eye, it is Nursie who educates Brighton and allows her a friendship with a young albino boy from the children’s ward, named Angel. She plans small birthday parties for Brighton, supplies her with treats like books and keeps the young girl surrounded by the healthiest patients such as Mickey, who makes the child a rag rug, and tells her stories. While Brighton knows her captive life is in no way normal, by the time she’s sixteen, she’s grown to accept and be at peace with it. Then she hears a conversation between Nursie and one of the doctors that changes everything. They’ve been keeping secrets, information regarding both Brighton and Angel that would illuminate where the children came from, why they are at Riverside – and just what might set them free from their confinement in that unholy institution.

Confronting her beloved surrogate mother doesn’t turn out well for Brighton, however. Nursie gives her a shot of insulin and has the orderlies place Brighton in solitary confinement. Being treated like a patient rather than a person for the first time forces Brighton to realize that she needs to flee Riverside. And as luck would have it, no sooner has Brighton come to this determination than another girl is placed in solitary in the cell beside her. Grace has been brought to the asylum for ‘moral insanity’ a charge/ diagnosis leveled against her by her father when she falls in love with a young black man. Grace has a knowledge of how the world works that Angel and Brighton desperately need if they are ever to leave Riverside. And fortunately, she’s willing to help her new friends plan their escape.

This story is told in a dual time format, so from the beginning we know that the escape does occur and has at least one survivor. We also know, without being given any tangible details, that that survivor has had a fairly good life. And finally, we know that they look back on their time at Riverside as truly horrific. I did, too. The book capitalizes on all the malevolence humanity once doled out to those who are different. There is pain, despair, appalling injustice and mistreatment. Women are placed in straight-jackets for asking for food, children are bathed with ice cold water, the food served is described as slop most people wouldn’t give to their dogs, the use of insulin to calm a patient is terrifying to anyone who knows anything about the drug, lice abounds, patients are denied clothes and forced to sit naked in common rooms , many soil themselves and have to sit for hours in their befoulment because there is no help, women who refused to cooperate with their families are mercilessly imprisoned against their will  – that and so much more exists within these pages.  Even the world on the outside treats those who don’t meet their perfect standards terribly and when a naïve Angel and Brighton find themselves in a position where they are forced to fend for themselves, they learn the kindness of strangers often hides the worst sort of danger.

Our two leads are, of course, extremely sympathetic characters. Brighton is a sweet young woman who has behaved with grace, dignity and generosity in dark circumstances. Angel is the same; a kind, clever soul trapped within a body which has others treating him as though he is a freak and something to be frightened of. In spite of that, he is a tender hearted, loving person.  These two delightful, lovely souls also make a charming couple as they slowly fall in love. As their love and friendship grows, they bring out the best in each other and there is such depth to their care and concern that it is wonderful to behold.

But honestly, that was one of only two things wonderful about this book for me. The author is relentless in her use of tragic history, spending pages highlighting the worst of humanity and quickly glossing over any positive events that occur in the tale. Her two innocent protagonists are victims and while they lash out at times, both verbally and physically, they are for the most part docile regarding their exploitation and debasement. Even the kind people in the tale are presented passively – they don’t go looking for folks to help nor are they attempting to right the wrongs of the world, but if someone comes along who needs their aid, they give it.

The second positive is that all of this is done with truly remarkable craftsmanship. The prose is lyrical, the characterizations solid and consistent, and if the plotting contains some conveniences, that is to be expected given that even real life contains moments of luck and grace. The history is thorough and detailed, with the author painting a vivid picture of the importance of many of the battles waged for equity in the past century.

This is an Inspirational, and God is mentioned but those references tend to be opaque and imaginative. For example, towards the end of the story, Brighton sees a crucifix and says of the man on it, “He had restraints in the shape of nails, and his face was so sad. I couldn’t help him from his captivity, but I wondered if he could help me from mine.” These types of threads are woven throughout the story, along with brief mentions of prayer.   While there are some scenes centered around a church, the religious leanings of the characters are kept rather open-ended.

At one point Brighton speaks of the past and says “People are people regardless of diagnosis. They [others] need to see that so that it [the events at Riverside]  will never happen again.” I think that sums up the theology of The Bright Unknown. These things should never occur again. While this certainly isn’t an easy read, it’s good to be sad, uncomfortable and shocked every once in a while in order to remember all the good that the fight for social justice has wrought. I would have preferred a bit more of the activism and a bit less about why it was so absolutely necessary but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an excellent book with a crucial message.
Was this review helpful?
Wow! This book was totally unexpected! I vaguely knew what it was about, but it was so much more gripping that I had expected. I’m going to miss these characters. I felt what Brighton felt, her fear, despair, pain, loneliness. I felt anger at her situation, shock and disbelief! The way that people were treated at asylums will never not be shocking and painful to read about, but I think that in the climate our culture is in regarding mental health, it is important to remember how poorly people were treated, so we can treat them better. This book brings a message of hope and definitely advocates for the better treatment of those who struggle with mental illness. Also, the way that Brighton feels compassion for people, even her enemies, and sees their pain was really sobering and I can learn a lot.
TW: Extremely poor treatment of patients in an asylum in the early-mid 20th Century.
Was this review helpful?
Nell is sixty seven. She thinks of the few surprises about making it to 1990. We are still living on earth. The  Second Coming hasn’t happened despite predictions, and devices like the cordless phone are on the top of many wish lists for housewives. Another surprise housewives aren’t as common. Nell hadn’t taken much to technology. She still uses her rotary phone but she did get a ten foot coiled cord as a gift. She heard old school and that is how to say what is old fashioned. There were times when she didn’t think she’d live to sixty seven. Nell’s driveway reminded her of the freedom she has to come and go as she pleases. Things weren't always this way. Underneath a pile of  mail is one of those big yellow envelopes, a bulky item, carries the shape of something too familiar. But Nell doesn’t want to name it. A chill washes over her.  The last time this type of bewitchment caught nell unawares. She was nothing more than an eighteen year old girl- frightened and alone. Learning too much all at once. Tinside gray concrete walls. Feeling the loss of her last bit of innocence. But Nell Didn’t lose herself. Her over forty years of marriage made her a survivor of unpredictability. She’d crawled through the shadow of death delivering her babies- reluctantly inside the the frightened walls of a hospital. And she became a woman amending her own childhood through motherhood. But this envelope brings her a certain dread she can’t explain. Nell doesn’t want to open it, even though her entire life had been in anticipation of this. The name in the corner of the envelope is not familiar, but the town on the return address boasts that her nightmares are not dreams but memories after all. The name on the envelope is someone she shed long ago- so long ago it’s almost like the girl never existed.  But it’s her. This much Nell knows and she wishes it wasn’t so. When she tips the envelope over, a 35 mn film cartridge falls into her hands. It’s old, almost fifty years old. Nell had long ago wished she could forget it all, but the voices from her past are stronger than her present. She tossed the film, who sent it?  Where did it come from? Inside was a note: “Brighton, I have the rest of them if you’re interested” Kelly Keene. Nell doesn’t know her. Why does Kelly have the film from her dark years? The whisper of voices also calls to mind a promise she left unfulfilled. The burden of this guilt nestles next to her soul. For decades she’d kept those voices to herself. But then film begins the sacred resurrection of those forgotten souls and with them comes the unearthing of Nell’s past.        1937- The flossy gray clouds outside mirrored the blandness inside the walls of her home. The window made her part of both worlds one Nell watched and coveted. The other she lived in. Neither was safe. She had received a diary four years ago on her last birthday. Her home was The Riverside Home For the Insane. Her mother had been sterilized - a procedure Doctors thought would help her melancholia depression and psychosis. Nell’s friend was Angel. At age seven Nell realized being a resident Of Riverside Home For The Insane was not how everyone else in the world lived. But it had been her life since birth. None of the doctor's diagnosis - feeble-minded or deaf-mute fit her. Like her best friend Angel. He was just an albino and didn’t see well. Her poor mother was bewitched with voices and demons and her father never cared enough to rescue either of them- or even a visit. 
This was really an amazing read. I could picture the asylum and the people in it and the things that happened. I loved the pace and plot of this book. I didn’t want to put this down once I started reading it. It grabbed me from the beginning and kept my attention completely until the end. I loved the ending. It does go back and forth between the past and present but this author did it in such a way it didn’t bother me as it normally does. But how horrible it was to be born in an asylum and stay there for eighteen years and literally had to be snuck out. I was glad Nell/Brighton lived a full life. I was also Nell had kept her promise and fell free from it. I love Angel and Nell together . I loved the characters and the ins and outs of this book that choked me up several times and I highly recommend it.
Was this review helpful?
A book that will make you shutter, and I found myself with tears, those poor people. There is a lot of truth in this read, and knowing that made it so much harder for me to make myself believe this is a fictional book.
The author does a wonderful job throughout the story, and once you pick the book up, it becomes very hard to put down. Although there is not an epilogue, the book does bring everything to a conclusion and we are up dated, and I was surprised!
Hard to read what happens here, but superbly done, and you don’t want to miss it!

I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Thomas Nelson, and was not required to give a positive review.
Was this review helpful?
The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover, but reading the summary drew me in completely.  The summary stated that Brighton Friedrich, was born and raised within the dreary walls of Riverside Hospital, an asylum.  That in itself was depressing, but then the blurb mentioned that Brighton met a friend named Angel, and  they faced a bleak future. This was double depressing even before getting started.

I was surprised from the beginning to the end. I  got angry, cried, laughed, cheered and often caught myself holding my breath. I didn't do these things in the order given because I did them each more than once. It's a book that tears at the heart and keeps you hoping.

No other characters could belong in this story. Brighton and Angel were the perfect fit for the situations they lived.  Through them we read about and feel the injustices of human mistreatment due to ignorance and greed.  Through them we keep hoping for change.

Even though I'm not fond of depressing, sad stories that make me cry, I enthusiastically recommend this book to readers of historic fiction. If you learn something while you read then the book is worth reading.  This book is 5 stars worth of reading.
Was this review helpful?
An absolute gripping story of heart and hope.  This novel gives the reader a horrifying eagle eye view into the Riverside Home for the Insane and the adjoining Children’s Home.  A story that will “thrill your dreams and confirm your nightmares”.  Told in two timeframes, then (1928-1941) and now (1990), this book was beautifully woven together and is almost impossible to put down book.  “There was so much pain then, but there was always a light in our path to keep us from giving up.” Brighton and Angel are two amazing characters that will not be soon forgotten.  While “a lot of bad things had to happen for us to have all the good in our lives ...” “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ❤️
Was this review helpful?
This is both sad and hopeful.  Brighton was raised inside an asylum because her mother was pregnant with her when she was committed- and it was decided to keep Brighton with her.  What an awful thing to do to a child.  Angel, an albino, was sent to the asylum because he looked different.  What sort of parents do that?  Luckily, neither would be in that position today but in the 1940s, they are stuck until they decide to escape.  Also luckily, there are good people in the world who are willing to help them.  Younts has described how the women in the asylum are treated in detail; it's horrible.  She's also created luminous characters in Brighton and Angel.  And keep positive thoughts for Grace, who is ruined because she loved someone her parents didn't approve of.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Keep with this.
Was this review helpful?
4.5 stars.

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts is a gritty yet ultimately, hopeful, novel that mainly takes place in the Riverside Home for the Insane.

  Although she has no mental illness, Brighton Friedrich lives in a mental institution with her mother, Helen.  Pregnant when admitted to Riverside, Helen gives birth to Brighton within the asylum walls, but it is nurse, Joann Derry, who raises the young girl.  As she grows older, Brighton takes care for her mom while Joann provides an education for her and her best friend, Angel. Brighton also witnesses the horrific “treatment” of the patients who suffer from serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia. She is very much aware that during this time period, not everyone who is a patient belongs there. Many of the patients are merely an inconvenience to their families while others are mentally retarded, depressed or merely orphaned.  After befriending new patient, Grace Douglass, who is Brighton’s age, they, along with Angel, begin planning for their eventual escape.

  In 1990, Brighton, who now goes by Nell, is contacted by Kelly Keene who has possession of the items she was forced to leave behind during her hurried departure from Riverside decades earlier. Kelly will return Nell’s belongings in return for telling her story about what occurred within the walls of the asylum. The now dilapidated buildings  are slated for demolition as long as the town agrees to fund the project.  Nell will only agree with her proposition as long as Kelly arranges for her to revisit the grounds and buildings where she lived during her childhood.  Will confronting the ghosts of her past give Brighton peace? Or will her experiences continue to haunt her?

  Seamlessly weaving back and forth in time,  The Bright Unknown is a beautifully written novel that is heartbreaking but also hopeful.  The horrors of asylums and the treatment of the patients are sensitively portrayed but sometimes diffiuclt to read. Through Elizabeth Byler Younts’  descriptive prose, the setting and characters spring vibrantly to life.  A poignant and thought-provoking novel that I found impossible to put down and highly recommend.
Was this review helpful?
I received this from Netgalley.com for a review.

Brighton Turner has endured a rural Pennsylvania asylum which used less than humane methods to control its population. As an adult, she keeps her promise to herself and tells of the tragic events that happened to her and those she considered her family.

Out of the broken past is healing and redemption. Good story.

3.25☆
Was this review helpful?
Another best book of the year for me, moving up into one of my best top ten. I was so pleasantly surprised by this awesome story, didn’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly was blown away by this little gem. Few books can bring me to tears, nor can they make me feel so deeply with emotion as this one did. I loved everything about this story, it has it all, love, loss, mystery, heartache, resilience, goodness, evil and then finally kindness from strangers. We switch between Brighton, aka Nell in the past and the current as she has aged and she is remembering her childhood. 
The thing that made this book so awesome is that it is based on a true story. I have read several other books on experiences in orphanages and this one fits right in. Horrible living conditions, overcrowding, lack of staff and food, no governing regulations, just horrendous situations. 
 I loved the way the author would drop a little bit of information or possibly “omit” a little bit and this would make you want to continue to find out more and quickly keep turning the pages. How Brighton and Angel adapted and survived after what they went thru is remarkable. This one held my attention all the way through. The writing is stellar, what a story, high 5 stars. I highly recommend. This is a must read!!
I was given the opportunity to receive this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. This one gets a high 5*****’s.
Was this review helpful?
As a Christian woman, I was super excited when I received the galley for Elizabeth Byler Younts' The Bright Unknown. I was further geeking out upon my receipt of it because it takes place in the 1940's and I just love that era all together. Sometimes I really feel as though I was born too late, but then you read a story like this one and you're reminded of how dark and unfair society could be back then, especially towards women...and even more so when those women were poor.

The Bright Unknown begins with Brighton explaining, “I’m not sure whom I should thank – or blame – for the chance to become an old woman. Though as a young girl, sixty-seven seemed much older than it actually is.” We open at the end of the story, but are quickly thrown back into Brighton's life before her freedom, in a place that we come to know as a horrific, malevolent institution where the darkest sides of humanity pervaded for many years. 

Born in the Riverside Home for the Insane  in 1923, Brighton Friedrich’s life revolves around her unstable mother and her overall care. With little exposure to the real world, Brighton is ill-equipped for anything outside of the asylum's walls and at times, the true nature of what really is within. Eventually, Brighton meets Grace Douglass, a young woman who is sent to the asylum by her parents for behavioral issues. 

Just as naive as Brighton, Grace struggles to adjust to her life inside of the walls of the institution. Grace draws Brighton out into the world through her love of photography and the two soon grow close. 

Staying true to the time, the therapies that destroyed people inside asylums in the 1940's are at their peak use. Hydrotherapy, insulin shock, lobotomies...and so much more, are at the forefront of the treatment of patients. Brighton becomes driven to find a way to save herself and her friends from life in the asylum, eager to get the out and into a place where they can find piece. The Riverside Home for the Insane is not where these women belong and Brighton is determined to find her own life along side the people that she loves. 

However, her unrest leads to a sudden change in how Brighton is treated by the staff and she goes from being a person to a patient. Undergoing the treatments that other have had, including insulin shock, sparks a fire in Brighton that sets her and Grace on a journey towards their own freedom. They grow up fast and hard, but their journey towards a new life is riveting and the overall prose of the novel keeps you engaged as you journey through the insanity that is an insane asylum in the 1940's and the life that comes after. 

“My driveway reminds me of the freedom I have to come and go as I please. Things were not always this way.”
-Brighton Friedrich

Book Information
The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts is scheduled to be released on October 22, 2019 from Thomas Nelson with ISBN 9780718075682. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.
Was this review helpful?
An interesting story, a little dark and sad for my tastes. It was also a bit of a slow start, I didn't really care much for the book until about 15% in and it was almost a DNF. I think this is probably a great book for the right reader, it was just not a fit for me, I don't like a slow build were the story only comes in tidbits.
Was this review helpful?
Every now and then I read a book that I’m not sure how to describe  it, and this is one of those. I’m not going to repeat what you can read in the book’s description, but my impressions of the story.

This story is very well-written.  It’s painful to read the childhood stories of Angel and Nell, but it’s compelling reading.  There’s such a contrast all throughout the book between darkness/ hopelessness and light/hope. This is not light-hearted reading, but it’s well worth the time to read this story. Written from Nell’s point of view, the reader senses her desperation and determination to escape the asylum and find a normal, fulfilling life. As we go back and forth between Nell’s past and present, we see how she grows to become a remarkably brave, caring woman. This is a story you won’t soon forget.  I’m predicting this book will be nominated for some awards, and deservedly so.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.  All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Such an incredibly well written story.  This is the second book I have read by this author and I couldn’t put it down. It was a dark sad story but also has hope. I am thankful to the publisher and netgalley for an advanced copy.  It is a story that as a counselor it was interesting to read.
Was this review helpful?
“My driveway reminds me of the freedom I have to come and go as I please. Things were not always this way.”
                                                            -Brighton Friedrich

This is a story of contrasts; dark and light, hope and despair, isolation and freedom. Born in an asylum for the mentally ill in 1923, Brighton Friedrich’s life revolves around her extremely unstable mother, the care she receives from a loving nurse, and her friendship with a lonely albino child named Angel, who is a patient in the children’s ward. 

Trapped in a life over which she has no control and no hope of changing, Brighton meets Grace Douglass, a young woman sent to the institution by her parents for behavioral issues. Grace introduces Brighton to the outside world through her stories and her love of photography. Filled with despair and faced with the loss of her friends, Brighton struggles to find a way to save herself and her friends as they slip deeper into the life of the asylum. 

Having no exposure to the outside world, Brighton and Angel are naïve and ill-equipped to deal with the real world. Relying on the God’s guidance and protection and basic human kindness, Brighton and Angel find a way out. Their poignant, courageous story is told in an evocative, emotional manner that will leave the reader haunted by their story long after the last page is closed. 

This novel is filled with historical detail regarding the institutionalizing of people during the 1930’s and their care. Frightening details bring to life the treatments such as hydrotherapy, insulin shock, sterilization, and lobotomy, the patients underwent in the name of medical care. The book shows the true courage and strength it took to survive in one of these facilities for someone who had no mental health issues. I highly recommend this amazingly, unique story of Brighton and Angel and their journey to find a life and peace. 

This ARC copy was received from Thomas Nelson Publishers and Netgalley.com. The above thoughts and opinions are wholly my own.

#TheBrightUnknown  #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
One of the last passages in the The Bright Unknown is “A lot of bad had to happen for us to have all the good in our lives.” One thing I can definitely attest to is that a lot of bad happens in this story. Whether that was truly necessary in order for any good to occur - and whether the story needed to concentrate on the bad over the good - I am  less certain.

In 1927, Brighton Friedrich is born in the Riverside Home for the Insane. The daughter of an unwed, mentally ill young woman, Brighton is kept in her mother’s room under the excuse that it helps keep that lady calm. For years, all Brighton will know are the dingy walls of that institution. A nurse, Joann, nicknamed ‘Nursie’ by Brighton, becomes her substitute parent. With her own mother too sick to speak or even meet her eye, it is Nursie who educates Brighton and allows her a friendship with a young albino boy from the children’s ward, named Angel. She plans small birthday parties for Brighton, supplies her with treats like books and keeps the young girl surrounded by the healthiest patients such as Mickey, who makes the child a rag rug, and tells her stories. While Brighton knows her captive life is in no way normal, by the time she’s sixteen, she’s grown to accept and be at peace with it. Then she hears a conversation between Nursie and one of the doctors that changes everything. They’ve been keeping secrets, information regarding both Brighton and Angel that would illuminate where the children came from, why they are at Riverside - and just what might set them free from their confinement in that unholy institution.

Confronting her beloved surrogate mother doesn’t turn out well for Brighton, however. Nursie gives her a shot of insulin and has the orderlies place Brighton in solitary confinement. Being treated like a patient rather than a person for the first time forces Brighton to realize that she needs to flee Riverside. And as luck would have it, no sooner has Brighton come to this determination than another girl is placed in solitary in the cell beside her. Grace has been brought to the asylum for ‘moral insanity’ a charge/ diagnosis leveled against her by her father when she falls in love with a young black man. Grace has a knowledge of how the world works that Angel and Brighton desperately need if they are ever to leave Riverside. And fortunately, she’s willing to help her new friends plan their escape.

This story is told in a dual time format, so from the beginning we know that the escape does occur and has at least one survivor. We also know, without being given any tangible details, that that survivor has had a fairly good life. And finally, we know that they look back on their time at Riverside as truly horrific. I did, too. The book capitalizes on all the malevolence humanity once doled out to those who are different. There is pain, despair, appalling injustice and mistreatment. Women are placed in straight-jackets for asking for food, children are bathed with ice cold water, the food served is described as slop most people wouldn’t give to their dogs, the use of insulin to calm a patient is terrifying to anyone who knows anything about the drug, lice abounds, patients are denied clothes and forced to sit naked in common rooms , many soil themselves and have to sit for hours in their befoulment because there is no help, women who refused to cooperate with their families are mercilessly imprisoned against their will  - that and so much more exists within these pages.  Even the world on the outside treats those who don’t meet their perfect standards terribly and when a naïve Angel and Brighton find themselves in a position where they are forced to fend for themselves, they learn the kindness of strangers often hides the worst sort of danger.

Our two leads are, of course, extremely sympathetic characters. Brighton is a sweet young woman who has behaved with grace, dignity and generosity in dark circumstances. Angel is the same; a kind, clever soul trapped within a body which has others treating him as though he is a freak and something to be frightened of. In spite of that, he is a tender hearted, loving person.  These two delightful, lovely souls also make a charming couple as they slowly fall in love. As their love and friendship grows, they bring out the best in each other and there is such depth to their care and concern that it is wonderful to behold.

But honestly, that was one of only two things wonderful about this book for me. The author is relentless in her use of tragic history, spending pages highlighting the worst of humanity and quickly glossing over any positive events that occur in the tale. Her two innocent protagonists are victims and while they lash out at times, both verbally and physically, they are for the most part docile regarding their exploitation and debasement. Even the kind people in the tale are presented passively - they don’t go looking for folks to help nor are they attempting to right the wrongs of the world, but if someone comes along who needs their aid, they give it.

The second positive is that all of this is done with truly remarkable craftsmanship. The prose is lyrical, the characterizations solid and consistent, and if the plotting contains some conveniences, that is to be expected given that even real life contains moments of luck and grace. The history is thorough and detailed, with the author painting a vivid picture of the importance of many of the battles waged for equity in the past century.

This is an Inspirational, and God is mentioned but those references tend to be opaque and imaginative. For example, towards the end of the story, Brighton sees a crucifix and says of the man on it, “He had restraints in the shape of nails, and his face was so sad. I couldn’t help him from his captivity, but I wondered if he could help me from mine.” These types of threads are woven throughout the story, along with brief mentions of prayer.   While there are some scenes centered around a church, the religious leanings of the characters are kept rather open-ended.

At one point Brighton speaks of the past and says “People are people regardless of diagnosis. They [others] need to see that so that it [the events at Riverside]  will never happen again.” I think that sums up the theology of The Bright Unknown. These things should never occur again. While this certainly isn’t an easy read, it’s good to be sad, uncomfortable and shocked every once in a while in order to remember all the good that the fight for social justice has wrought. I would have preferred a bit more of the activism and a bit less about why it was so absolutely necessary but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an excellent book with a crucial message.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
Visit our Amazon Storefront
Was this review helpful?
'I knew that being a resident of the Riverside Home For The Insane was not how everyone else in the world lived. But it has been my life since birth.'

Brighton was born in the insane asylum because her mother was a patient there. She knew no other life. A nurse educated and raised her inside that dreary place. Brighton finds an albino not and names him Angel because he has no name. They grow up together in this put. Years later they escape but are completely unprepared for life in the world.

Poignantly told but heartbreaking, this will haunt you after the last page is turned. A very sad book.

*My thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers for a copy of this book via Net Galley. The opinion stated here is entirely my own.
Was this review helpful?
I’m usually drawn to covers of books in hopes that they hold a glimpse of the story inside.  This cover, although good, doesn’t begin to speak the volumes delivered in this amazing book.  I read through this book so fast that when I realized my Kindle app was reporting 95 percent complete I had to stop.  I was not even close for my journey to come to an end with Angel and Brighton.  I was so drawn and invested in their lives, the story, and the other characters.  

I won’t recap the story because so many others have.  I will say that as a reader the end was completely satisfying and expertly done by Ms. Younts.  It was made all the better for my pausing as not to rush the end. 

The story is told at just the right pace and characters expertly delivered.   Ms. Younts descriptions had me inside the asylum and I felt and could see the walls of solitary confinement, straight jackets, insulin injections, shaved heads, and other cruel patient treatments.  Even the Fancies and Fears had me right inside the trailers and circus tents.  Have I sparked your curiosity yet?  GET YOUR COPY!

Great story told by a very talented author.  I’m definitely looking now for her other books.  Highly recommend.

Thanks to Netgalley, Thomas Nelson and Elizabeth Younts for allowing me the privilege to read and review this great book.
Was this review helpful?
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle”

It’s hard to put into words what I felt after reading this novel; it touched me deeply.  In this very poignant novel, we follow the life of Brighton, from her birth in a horrendous asylum in the 1930’s through her adulthood.  Elizabeth Byler Younts depicts the horrid conditions in Riverside Home, from the overcrowding of patients, their harried, often forgotten, neglectful care because of understaffing, and the inhumane treatments patients endured.  Only saved from the most terrible fate by compassionate Nursey Joann, Brighton develops a friendship with the albino Angel.  The author chronicles their relationship and their knowledge that a daring escape is the only way out. To quote the author, “a lot of bad had to happen for us to have all the good in our lives”.

I promise that this is a book you’ll not want to put down until you’ve savored every page, and it will leave you thinking about it for a long time.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book.  I was under no obligation to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?