Cover Image: The Bright Unknown

The Bright Unknown

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I was hooked from the first line. “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.”

This author does a brilliant job of taking readers to a place no one wants to go and/or even think about. This is an extraordinary novel that tugged at my heartstrings right from the start with it’s larger than life characters and their horrific situations. This is a moving story I don’t think I could have continued reading had it not been for the time-slip approach to writing this story that seamlessly flipped from present and past, then back again. I was captivated by the way this haunting tale was told through Brighton’s eyes.

Its nail biting suspenseful in parts and in others I imagined worse than had actually happened. (I was grateful for that) Because of this story telling style I was able to read about young Brighton and her friends who were in that horrible place where they did despicable things to the people that lived there.

Brighton learns that help and support can come in unexpected ways to lead us out of darkness to a hope and fresh light.

This wasn’t an easy read. It’s sad to know that this was not an isolated situation. People were put in institutions for selfish reasons and left there with no hope of getting out. Brighton was born and raised there. This story is of surviving the pains of life, grief, tragedy, revelations, family issues yet it’s a hopeful and powerful read.

The grief and friendship were both raw, genuine as the youngsters sought freedom the only way they knew how. It’s honest, innocent and gritty. I liked the natural spiritual thread and how Brighton had a peace in her soul when she said the Lord’s prayer she was taught as a child.

Each person in the asylum longed to be seen, heard, acknowledged, they wanted to belong to someone and be understood, they needed friendship and kindness. It was amazing how this author weaves in a message of hope in the middle of dark and somewhat creepy moments. Brighton says this about herself, “None of the doctor’s diagnoses – feeble-minded, melancholia, or deaf, mute- could be used to describe me. I didn’t even have a bad temper.”

I was captivated by this story and by Brighton and her compelling need to help those around her. She thought living in an Insane hospital was normal until it wasn’t. She had met a boy when she was 5 and they learned how to read and write by a nurse named Nursey. She adopted them as her own. Brighton narrates, “By ate 14, I knew that being a resident of the Riverside home for the insane was not how everyone else in the world lived. But it had been my life since birth.”

I was proud of Brighton and her friends. They didn’t stop fighting the good fight for their freedom. After they get out of the institution, they realize living in the world has its own traps and situations to watch out for. They trusted their instincts. It was hard but they grew up fast.

I was first introduced to this author through her novel The Solace of Water where she tackled another tough situation in a hopeful, honest manner. I would never have read a story about an insane asylum if I hadn’t thought this would be written in the same manner. It was. This is an amazing read and one that would work for your next book club pick.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins!
The Book Club Network blog 
Book Fun Catalogue front page
Was this review helpful?
The Bright Unknown
by Elizabeth Byler Younts
Thomas Nelson–FICTION

Thomas Nelson

Christian , Historical Fiction

Pub Date 22 Oct 2019

I am reviewing a copy of The Bright Unknown through Thomas Nelson Fiction and Netgalley:

Brighton Friedrich has only known the life she has endured inside the dreary walls of Riverside Home- The Asylum where she was born. Joann, a nurse, raised and educated Brighton, Brighton’s Mother is a patient at the Asylum. But Joann has also kept some vital information from Brighton, information that just may empower Brighton to leave Riverside Home.

Brighton and Angel are not prepared for life beyond Riverside walls. They do not have legal identities, and very little money, and only a few ideas of a safe place to land. As the two struggle to survive in a world they know nothing about and have never seen before now, they find themselves relying on each other and the kindness of strangers in order to get by.

I give The Bright Unknown five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
Was this review helpful?
For the first 18 years of her life, Brighton Freidrich lives in a mental institution—and not because she has a mental deficiency. Surrounded by her mother and other women living in their minds, Brighton has little statistical chance of turning out normal. 

But Nursey, one of the few employees at Riverside Home for the Insane who genuinely cares about Brighton, tries to make her life as normal as possible within the sterile walls of an institution. And finding Angel helps. 

Angel, who came to the children’s ward when he turned three, suffers from albinism. And in the 1930s, people saw albinism, deafness, blindness, and physical defects as a sign of mental deficiencies as well. Nursey, along with the kindly Dr. Woburn, make it possible for the two children to form a friendship, flouting the strict rules of the hospital. 

Brighton and Angel’s lives turn into a pattern of meager meals, hidden books, and learning all they can despite the lack of educational opportunities. When Angel turns 18, Brighton overhears plans to send him to Orchard Row, and she vows to save him from the terrors that she knows await him there.

When she threatens Nursey in order to save Angel, she suddenly finds herself no longer the golden girl of the ward. For the first time, she experiences the degrading treatments that other inmates withstand—restraints, insulin shots, a shaved head, a camisole, and solitary confinement.

A Dead Girl Lives 

In solitary, she meets Grace, a girl about her age, who teaches her about the outside world and gives her hope that she won’t always live out her life within the four walls of the institution. After the two girls get out of solitary, they blackmail a nurse into bringing them film for Grace’s camera. Together they document life inside.

One day, when Grace’s family comes for her, or by some miracle Brighton gets out, they hope to show the world the pictures of the people they love who live, suffer, and die at Riverside. 

As the months pass and Grace’s father shows no sign of allowing her release, Brighton, Angel and Grace start planning their escape. Brighton uncovers more secrets about her past—including an envelope with her death certificate in it. 

And as the months pass, hope shrinks likes the shadows when the sun sets. Will Brighton ever have an opportunity to tell the stories of her friends? 

Once again, Younts weaves an intimate, richly textured tale that wraps around the reader like a shawl. I found myself glancing up in surprise that the sun shone in through unbroken windows, and the screams were only echoes from the pages of the book. 

While our understanding of mental illnesses have changed significantly in the past century, I know the pain that people feel. Those with mental illnesses still suffer from discrimination and misunderstanding. They haul their diagnosis around like a ball and chain. 

The Bright Unknown will make readers question all they thought they knew about mental illness and the sadness that lives inside each of us.
Was this review helpful?
I'm a new reader of Elizabeth Byler Younts.   I can tell she is going to be a new favorite, however, as I thoroughly enjoyed The Bright Unknown.  Based on much of what insane asylums were actually like in the 1930-40s,  it is a gripping read.  One of the best books I've read all year.

The story centers around two young adults who have had the misfortune of growing up in an insane asylum.  Brighton was born at the institution as her mother was a patient.  Angel's family rejected him and placed him there because of his albinism.  These two are complex characters with immensely punishing histories.  Fortunately, they find each other and become best friends despite their harsh existence.  

Finally, the two manage a successful escape plan; however, they are not at all prepared for the reality of 1940s American life.  The two muddle along getting by with the charity of strangers as they attempt a journey from Pennsylvania to Michigan where they believe Brighton's Aunt lives.

A few of the themes this story explores include what it means to belong, home, and how a mother's love can appear different depending on the individual.  "To reconcile the good and the bad that is folded up into one person is hard."

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who enjoy historical fiction with reality as its basis.    I am thankful to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC for this my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This is a dark story but it is about hope.  It is a beautiful story and masterfully written. 
Many thanks to Thomas Nelson and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Was this review helpful?
Brighton is forced to relive her memories of growing up in and escaping from an insane asylum in the early 1940s. However, in doing so, she is able to understand how God used evil for good in her life and she can finally accept everything that happened to her as good and perfect gifts from Him.

I appreciate that in this Christian novel, Elizabeth Byler Younts writes honest characters who come to faith in a believable way and whose trust in God help them through some horrendous circumstances. There is evil in the world but there is also good because of God and His people.

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!
Was this review helpful?
Gripping and heartfelt, this book will capture you on page one and not release you even when you finish the last page and put it down. So many sad, heinous atrocities committed against these beautiful, misunderstood, souls in the asylums. The unspoken stories of so many people are respectfully told, while maintaining the humanity dignity that was stripped from most of them. Brighton is an astoundingly strong and resilient character to endure all that she does. She finds the courage and strength to face her worst fear because of her uncompromising love for others. A line stood out to me that was repeated more than once and I believe sums of the power and redemption of this story: "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle."  A first for me by this author, but I can guarantee I will be reading others.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Was this review helpful?
The Bright Unknown is such a good book.  Loved the plot, two young people searching for answers.    I enjoyed the author’s writing and will be reading more of her books.  I recommend this book.  I received an arc from the publisher and this is my unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
I asked to review this book because I really liked the title. I wasn't really sure what it would be about and had never read anything else by the author before. However, I absolutely loved it! The story of Brighton and Angel is a story that needs to be told, over and over again. Otherwise, as Elizabeth Byler Younts points out during the story, history will repeat itself. And that would be disastrous. The Bright Unknown is the story of two people raised in an insane asylum before World War II. Brighton was born there to a mother who would never be able to speak to her and Angel was left there by his family due to albinism. The two become friends in a desperately dreary place. There is a nurse, Joann, who helps take care of them and teaches them as much as she is able. When a young lady named Grace arrives, she tells them of the world outside the doors and escape becomes a dream that won't let go. When they finally do manage to get away, though, they find that the world out there can be just as scary as the one behind closed doors. I love that this story did not cut corners or avoid painful subjects like insanity, death, and the things humans are capable of doing to each other. I thought it was very well written and am super excited about reading other books by Younts. I received a free copy of this story for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This book captured my attention from the very beginning. It is narrated by Brighton, a remarkable woman with an incredible past. Brighton was raised in an asylum during the 1930's. Her mother was pregnant with her when she was committed, and the nurse in charge of her mother's care deemed it best to keep the infant with her mentally ill mother. Indeed, Brighton has always been able to soothe her mother - even if she can't fully connect with her through the fog of her mental illness. And "Nursey" - as she called the woman who raised her did her best to keep Brighton in a cheery atmosphere and educate her. Still, Brighton often had to hide from doctors, and she couldn't help but see the disturbing way the patients in the asylum are treated, and she longs for friends and the normal family life she sees in her book. A friend comes in the form of Angel - an albino boy being raised in the children's home at the Asylum. Left there as an infant by his mother, Angel has been abandoned simply because he looks different, but he finds acceptance in Brighton and the two become inseparable. As Brighton grows into a young woman, she inevitable longs for escape and to experience the outside world. When a young woman named Grace is admitted to the asylum by her parents, Brighton is sure that with her help she can find a way to escape. But will she be able to take Angel with her? And how will they ever survive in a world they know nothing about?
I was blown about by this book, the story is so powerful. Brighton is such a strong yet fragile character, and the way she manages to survive so much was incredible. As her story went through it's many twists and turns I couldn't read it fast enough. It was fascinating to see her find the glimmers of light and hope that pulled her out of the darkness into a bright new life. I was weeping for her at the end, for the beauty of how she found help and how she found the strength to tell her story and the stories of all those she held dear. I will savor this read in my mind for a good long time, and I highly recommend it to any reader!
Was this review helpful?
I had read the author's previous novel The Solace of Water so I was eager to read this next novel and The Bright Unknown did not disappoint. The setting of an insane asylum where Brighton grew up  during the 1940's was so vivid that I immediately wondered about how the author researched this material. This is a story that is deserving of the lauded phrases of masterfully told, immersive plot, unforgettable characters because all of this is true. It is so well told that it has a bit of a saga feel to it because Brighton is slowly learning all the layers of her past (and ancestors) as she is recounting it in this dual-setting narrative. The shift from the younger Brighton to the present day adult character allows the reader to become more and more invested in the character of Brighton even though in the long run we know Brighton must turn out ok since she is right there as a sixty-something lady at the beginning of the novel. And yet we also fall in love with the supporting characters such as childhood albino friend Angel and we need to keep reading to find out what happened to him, too.

This is a unique story that will sit with you for a while. It's nuance is dark and depressing however because of the major dilemma of being a child eventually aging out of an insane asylum where she did not belong in the first place. There is a bit of a suspenseful tone as well because we know that there is something underhanded going on that keeps Brighton in the asylum and where Brighton once thought she had allies she had none. Secrets and betrayals are finally laid open for a full redemption at the end that requires tissues, but it was so good! Ugly cry again.

Was this review helpful?
A beautifully written and well developed story and plot. This story bravely dives into some dark corners and manages to pull out the hope that hidden amongst the cobwebs there. There is so many things that I love about this book, the unique characters, the haunting yet hopeful story, and the emotion that tugs you into this captivating tale. This is my first book by this author, and it will not be me last.
Was this review helpful?
A very touching story about a young girl, Brighton who was born in a insane asylum and lived there for eighteen years. Her story is both heartbreaking and courageous. This story reads like a memoir and will be hard to put down. Highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
I have read and loved books by Elizabeth Byler Younts in the past and The Bright Unknown is no different. I thought it was a great read! I give it four and a half stars.
Was this review helpful?
I first read an excerpt from this book in "Buzz books 2019: Fall/Winter"
And I am so happy that I did.

Brighton Friedrich was born and raised in an Asylum, her mother being too sick to care for her, Brighton is raised by a young nurse she affectionately calls 'Nursey'
Angel, an albino boy is brought in, they say his mother is a ghost as no one saw her come or go. He has no name, 
This book weaves through the 30's, 40s and 90s.
From Brighton and Angels life in the Asylum to a harrowing escape, to life outside.  

This book was so beautifully written. I found it to be almost poetic at times, and heartrendingly sad at others. 
I was attached to these characters, I could see them, they were described in such a way that I could see their faces. 

It is sometimes difficult to read a book that the author has made so vivid when it is describing something so horrific. And this book was difficult to read at times, I get that, but Elizabeth Byler Younts wove this story about these sad lives and somehow made it beautiful. 
She stuck her hand in the pit of darkness and pulled out the light.

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

This St. Francis quote was quoted a couple times in 'The Bright Unknown', and I feel as though it perfectly describes this book.
The author painted a world for us, so full of darkness, but when I think about this book I will remember the light

This book is why I read. 

--I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Was this review helpful?
The Bright Unknown by author Elizabeth Byler Yount is a haunting tale.  This fiction book sounded and read as a true story.  It was an emotional, gritty account of one girl, Brighton, raised in an asylum because she was born there.

The characters felt genuine and real.  Their emotions came off of the pages and then transferred to me. I felt so sorry for the way they were treated.  When something finally went their way, my heart rejoiced!

This book discusses how patients were treated in a mental institution.  It also discloses some of the reasons people were admitted.  Physically and mentally healthy people were admitted but seldom if ever released that way.

I was applauded and sickened at the horrors patients endured.  The author has done her research well.  Her book is well planned, organized, and has much information.  For me it was hard to read and yet I wanted to keep reading to see what happened so I couldn’t put it down.

Expect twists and turns, mystery, light romance, light faith/inspiration, and a lot of emotional upheaval.  I do recommend this book but not for young readers.  I rated it a 4 stars.  I received a copy from NetGalley but these are my own thoughts.
Was this review helpful?
The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts

Brighton is born and grows up in an insane asylum.  She lives there for 18 years and finally manages to escape with her life-long friend, Angel, an albino.  She journeys to find hope, belonging and her true identity
This is an amazing and powerful story.  I could hardly comprehend the life that Brighton and her mother would have endured in an insane asylum in the 1940’s. 
The characters are complex and their motivations are multi-layered.  How is it that the author can create a character that the reader can at once admire and despise? 
The plot takes turns that the reader can’t anticipate.  It keeps the reader engaged, and even though it switches from past to present, it is easy to follow. 
In short, this book is an amazing story that no one should miss.  I highly recommend it.  I received a copy from the publisher for this, my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This was well written and had good characters. I've heard of the injustice of the asylum system but this story made if very real. I will not soon forget it. I especially enjoyed finding our who her husband was. That completely surprised me.
I received this book free from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
These characters felt real to me. They drew me into the story and made me worry for them and squeal when things went right. I went into the story thinking it was young adult because the characters are mostly teenage throughout the plot, but in the end I think it's more adult because of the passages with Nell as an adult. In addition, the themes and depictions of the mental asylum are intensely troubling and perhaps better suited to adults. That said, I'm technically an adult (in age, anyway, if not in spirit) and it was very difficult to read.

Brighton. Oh my goodness, I just want to give her a hug. She's an amazingly strong, kindhearted girl who just loves so strongly. She's been through so much and comes out the other side anyway. She's an amazing character and the author did a great job writing her.

Angel. Ugh, I love him so much. He's the first albino character I've ever met, shockingly! He's such a sweetie, and I loved reading about his interactions with Brighton. He really cares about her, and she about him.

Grace. Oh, did I ever have the feels about her. Can I rant for a minute about how absurd the laws of their time were, where she couldn't marry an African-American man - and got locked up in an insane asylum for it?! 

The romance is not a heavy part of the book, but it was absolutely perfect. I have never wanted two characters to get together more than I wanted with these Brighton and Angel. They are genuinely PERFECT for each other and a great illustration of what a good relationship is. I am SO HAPPY they ended up together. 

As for the topic of this's heartbreaking. How mentally ill people were treated is unforgivable. Reading about forced sterilization and lobotomies is just so angering it made me come close to tears. I cannot believe this is an actual part of our history, and it makes me SO ANGRY. I have mental health issues. Had I lived two hundred years ago, this probably would have happened to me. And it's unbelievable and terrifying and the message of this book is SO IMPORTANT. Brighton wants to expose what happens to her and the people she loves. She wants to show that they are human and deserve to be treated as such. And I just have so many feelings about it and I want to scream about this book from the rooftop because it's so necessary.

Amazing book. Amazing characters. Absolutely recommended.

TW: I mean, you probably know this already, but terrible abuse of the mentally ill, as well as a traveling group of circus people that seeks to exploit conjoined twins, albino people, etc. Plus a brief mention of sexual assault.

*NetGalley was kind enough to provide me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!*
Was this review helpful?
Brokenness. Depression. Pain. Despair.

We all know these words well, but the lovely Elizabeth Byler Younts dives into the depths of these issues, creating a setting that brings out the stark reality of a psychiatric hospital in the 1950s. As I became invested in the characters lives I had to stop reading many times and take a deep breath. You feel the pain Brighton experiences & many of the subjects and feelings described are things I have seen at a much, much lower intensity. 

While I feel like this book could be categorized as "dark", there is a hope shining throughout. Grace. Angel. Escape. And then a realization that ONE true person provides ultimate hope! 

Honestly, this book is a must. While I realize often fiction is a way to escape, we also must see truth and the reality of what life can is so very hard, but through it there is The Bright Unknown that pulls us forward from out of the darkness into a broken, but beautiful joyful outlook at life. 

I was pleased with the ending. It captured the whole tone of the book and I had tears in my eyes as I read the last words. 

*Content* I would recommend this story for adult readers, because of the intense subject line (much to do with a psychiatric hospital) Romance was sweet & while the Christian aspect of this book wasn't at the forefront of the book, you do see Brighton realizing there is strength outside herself. There is one phrase that the Lord's name was used flippantly, which disappointed me.
Was this review helpful?