Cover Image: The Bright Unknown

The Bright Unknown

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Member Reviews

This was a great, quick read about finding and defining oneself.  The main character was born and raised in an asylum, but comes to want a “normal” life. This story follows her as she discovers herself and finds her way into the world.
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What a fascinating novel! The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts was a wonderful read. I honestly couldn't put it down. The story read like a time-slip novel. I believe there are three different time periods the readers will travel to, but Younts has labeled each section, so it was easy to follow along. On the other hand, the characters were unique. I really enjoyed seeing the world through Brighton's eyes as she lived and explored the only world she ever knew. The asylum. I couldn't imagine living somewhere and thinking it was normal to see all that, but if that is all you knew, then I guess you had no choice. The entire time I couldn't wait to see how Brighton escaped. It took a while to get there, but I think that worked in  Younts' favor; it kept me flipping through the story. I enjoyed how Younts  showed us that there is more to people with disabilities than what people see at first glance. Some of these people are the sweetest people you ever met. I have worked with a number of them over the years and have enjoyed talking with them. Some kept me laughing; while some made me think. The Bright Unknown made me think. This was a unique story, and I enjoyed spending time with it.  Younts is a talented writer, and now I need to seek out her first story. If you like the honesty of this story, you might enjoy The Curse Of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright, it also takes place at an asylum. 

I received a complimentary copy of The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts from Thomas Nelson Publishing, but the opinions stated are all my own.
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This is a well written book, but it is a sad book. I had to stop reading it a few times because of the tears. But it was worth it.  I couldn't believe people could treat a person that horrible and be able to sleep at night. This is the first book I've read by this author and she did an excellent job writing this book. It is heartbreaking, yet with a ray of light. I will definitely look for more of her books. Thank you Thomas Nelson--Fiction via NetGalley for the ARC copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.
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I was intrigued by the description of this book and could not wait to read it. This is the first book I have read by Elizabeth Byler Younts. I have personal family history into this tragic subject and feel Ms. Younts did an excellent job of portraying this historical fact. Even though this is a  fictional book the events unfortunately happened in way too many  “Hospitals” during this time period. I love a quote  from the book 
“Why anyone would think something akin to a prison sentence would bring back happiness and sanity, I will never understand. It is strange to think that people felt better turning those deemed flawed invisible. That putting them out of sight was what was important. I’m sure there were those who had good intentions and believed the doctors were only trying to help, with a copy of the Hippocratic oath on the wall in every office. No many families weren't to blame. Naivety and ignorance aren't sins, after all. But I'm not sure the hurt they caused is entirely forgivable. (emphasis is my own)
I, like many other reviewers found it to be a very hard book to read at times. I would have to often stop reading and reach for a tissue.  Brighton and Angel two  carefully crafted characters come alive on Ms. Younts pages. Along with a host of other sub-characters  will take you on an unforgettable journey. You will not soon forget this story. In summary I want to use Brighton's own words 
 “ Don't forget the history of what 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.” Although like I previously said this was a hard book and subject to read, I am so glad I didn't miss it. Thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishers for a  complimentary copy that I received through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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Brighton's mom was taken to the Riverside Home for the Insane. She was pregnant and unmarried. Brighton was born in the asylum and because her mom was a patient, she also could not leave. She lived in a world of being a patient when she was normal. She saw first hand the abuse and neglect of all the patients. A lot of the patients had things like psychosis, schizophrenia, and catatonia. However, a lot of them were there for no valid reason. Maybe they were retarded, albino, orphaned or mongoloid. 
Brighton met her best friend there, an albino that didn't have a name. She named him Angel. He was put in the asylum because his parents were high class and didn't want him being associated with them. Her other friend, Grace was also from an affluent family. She was placed in the asylum for loving the wrong man. She was eventually lobotomized and sterilized. 
Now Brighton has an opportunity to tell the community what it was like growing up there. Watching the women she considered family being beaten and starved. She has gone through many painful ordeals in her life. Now, she will keep her promise and let everyone know exactly what happened in Riverside Home for the Insane.
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The Bright Unknown is my first book to read by Elizabeth Byler Younts.  I wish I had known more about her writings, because this book is not exactly the kind of book I'd pick up to read.  The plot is dark, the characters are sympathetic but they lived through a lot of pain, and the setting is (for me) nightmarish. 

Brighton Friedrich is living in an asylum, mainly because she was born there and her mother was a patient there.

Angel is a boy living in the boys' ward and doesn't know his real name. 

Brighton and Angel finally make a way out of the asylum--Brighton wants to find her aunt in Michigan, and Angel wants to just be himself, not the albino in the boys' ward.

I wish I had liked it more, but it just didn't meet me where I am right now.  Two Stars

My thanks to Thomas Nelson and for allowing me to read and review this book.
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Well, I almost stopped reading this book before a major turning point in the story, which didn’t occur until about halfway through. It was definitely a tough story to read, as daily life is described inside a mental hospital in the 1930’s and  40’s.  I’m sure these types of facilities have improved over the years, but some of the methods employed by employees (in this book) were cruel and sometimes life-altering.. Very hard to read about.

After the turning point in the story, a series of adventures/misadventures occurs to our main characters. I alternated between being absorbed in the story and wanting it to all be over! The ending was so-so.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for an honest review.
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I can't say enough about this book - and this author!  A work of fiction that rings as true as a personal memoir. Heart breaking - heart wrenching - yet when you look you will see light, joy, hope.

Beautifully written story - well developed plot and characters.  I will definitely recommend this author to friends and family.

Thank you Net Galley, Thomas Nelson Fiction, and Elizabeth Byler Younts for the complimentary digital copy.  All opinions expressed are completely my own and I will definitely be reading more by this author.
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Part of this book really hit me with it's beautiful use of language and the vulnerability of this young woman who was stuck in an insane asylum due to her birth there from her incarcerated mother. Another part of me really didn't like this book because it felt choppy and disjointed. I didn't like the ending and I wasn't sure I would finish it at times. It's definitely a mood-setter of a book and the concept was very original.
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Usually, I do not read or watch anything that has to do with asylums. The subject is just too much to bear, just as much as stories and movies about animal abuse. These are helpless creatures, who have no voice or choice in the matter. However, this story is about a girl, who was born in an asylum to a mad mother, who was kept there by a nurse with a purpose of protecting her, educating her, and helping her. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Brighton's 18 years of life bring us close to a life in a psycho ward with all unfairness, injustice, but the author has compassion toward the patients, so we learn more about their personal stories. Eventually, Brighton gets out of there, she is faced with the real world, which brings a new set of obstacles.

I really like the book, however, I would have liked it better if the story about the younger Brighton was not interrupted with the life of the older Brighton. It would have been a book that you cannot put down until the end, if the story was flowing from beginning to end.
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Loved this book about love and loss . It was an engrossing read with wonderful characters. 
Thanks for letting me review this book to Netgalley
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I want sure I was going to like this book as I read the first few chapters, it seemed depressing. But Elizabeth pulled me in with her exceptional attention to detail and I feel in love with Angel and Brighton. I highly recommend it!!
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The Bright Unknown is a emotional, unique, engrossing story. This is a fantastic must read book of the year. The story and characters grips you from the first chapter and will leave a impression long after the final page.
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Imagine being born in the 1920s inside an insane asylum, raised in the same room where your mother is housed, and educated by one of the nurses there. Your only friend is an albino boy, Angel, who was allowed to leave the children's ward to keep you company. This was the life of Brighton. When she was 18, Grace was admitted to the asylum to prevent her from marrying a negro man. She began to tell Brighton about the outside world. Grace and Brighton and Grace were allowed to take photos because the nurse thought none of the pictures would ever leave the asylum. The three of them start to plan their escape. 

This story is told in the setting of the 1990s when the town of Milton is planning to tear down the old asylum building and name a new community center after one of the doctors who practiced at the asylum. A graduate student finds a pillowcase with the film canisters, contacts Brighton, now known as Nell. She asks her to come to Milton for a town meeting about the fate of the asylum building.  As she relives her history through the photos, the  readers are introduced to the type of therapy used in the asylum and the living conditions there.  It is an eye-opening story about the conditions of some asylums during this time.  It is a tribute to the human spirit. This book is not an easy read, but it is a reminder to value every person for who they are.
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“All I knew of regular girls came from books. But my fictional friends Heidi, Pollyanna, Betsy, Anne, Sarah—none of them had regular lives either. So perhaps there were no regular girls anywhere.”

In evocative prose, Elizabeth Byler Younts draws us into the world of Brighton and Angel, a pair of Dickensian-type innocents who shine the light of kindness and courage in some very dark places. 

Brighton and Angel meet while incarcerated in a mental institution as children, where their formative years are spent. There, they witness firsthand the callous treatment of women exhiled because of schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, postpartum depression, etc. Some are committed simply because their families wish to be rid of them. 

Brighton and Angel find comfort in books, songs, nurturing adults, and each other. Still, I found parts of this story tough to read and, at first, wanted to leave this fictional world behind.  

However, the story worked on me and revealed my prejudices. As I allowed myself to be pulled into the book, I saw a reason to value the characters—for these poor women, no matter how far gone they were, recognized and responded to love. 

And though many of them were severely limited, they gave back whatever affection and hope they could. 

For me, this story became an encouraging reminder that God’s love can penetrate whatever traps us—prison walls, disordered minds, unforgiving hearts—and free us from mistaken prejudices, evildoers, and even ourselves. I won’t soon forget it! 

So reader friends, my recommendation is that you spend some time with this unique, weighty story. You can safely dive into this fictional world, because there will be hope and goodness and dreams-come-true for Brighton and Angel—though not exactly in the way you might envision. 

Just remember that “the darkest night produces the brightest stars.”

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book. 

Quotes I liked . . . 

“The sun and I are old friends, and she greets me with a nod as I walk beneath her veil of heat. The walk to my mailbox that’s at the end of a long drive has been part of my daily routine for years. Sometimes I amble down the natural path twice, just for the fresh air, but mostly to remind myself that I can. I don’t take freedom for granted.”

“The fresh, rain-soaked whiffs were suffocated in the stale spaces of this place. It was more than simply moist and dank and smelling like rot, more than the decay of daft dreams, more than misery joining the beating of hearts. It was death itself. The scattered remains of us—the barely living—our eyes, ears, hearts, and souls lying like remnants everywhere. The older nurse squared my shoulders and tried to fix my hospital gown and hair. I knew, however, that I was nowhere pretty enough to be fixed. Weeds bloomed, but that didn’t make them flowers.”

“‘All things bright and beautiful.’ I sang it as loud as I could, and because I only knew the first four lines, I just repeated them over and over. When I got to the last line I stopped and yelled it as loud as I could in the sky. ‘The Lord God made them all.’”

“The one who had taught me to jump rope, to read, and to be very quiet when any visitors were in the ward and I wasn’t to be seen . . . One of the first to rock me to sleep.She’d been one of the many women who had been brought to the hospital because she was too sad to get out of bed and care for her own children. No one had ever come back for her. By the time I was born, she was over fifty and had spent over twenty years in the hospital. She was a fixture on the ward.”

“I knew she was humming for me. It reminded me of a lullaby, and the melody warmed the cold air and my breathing met the slow and even tempo. This mother of mine understood me better than anyone understood her.”

“The flowering weeping willow’s boughs reached for me in the summery breath. It called out to me. Come to me. Let my delicate white tears fall over you. I extended my hand, even though I knew the branches were too far away to let their beauty cry over me.”

“Why anyone would think something akin to a prison sentence would bring back happiness and sanity, I will never understand. It is strange to think that people felt better turning those deemed flawed invisible. That putting them out of sight was what was important. I’m sure there were those who had good intentions and believed the doctors were only trying to help, with a copy of the Hippocratic oath on the wall in every office. No, many families weren’t to blame. Naivety and ignorance aren’t sins, after all. But I’m not sure the hurt they caused is entirely forgivable.”

“My little word is feather light in the air and travels around the graves, greeting them. My throat is filled with knots and tears and a bittersweet joy I can’t explain. For several long minutes we sit there. We don’t speak but let the voices from our past rise up to meet us, to welcome us, and to be grateful that we’d shared so much life and love.”
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