CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK
Genre: Horror, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Expected Publication Date: September 25, 2018 (USA)
Published by: Harlequin Teen
Read NetGalley e-ARC
Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for an advance reader’s copy of this book. Please note that I am giving honest thoughts and opinions in exchange for a copy of the e-arc.
Summary (via Goodreads)
At seventeen, June Hardie is everything a young woman in 1951 shouldn’t be—independent, rebellious, a dreamer. June longs to travel, to attend college and to write the dark science fiction stories that consume her waking hours. But her parents only care about making June a better young woman. Her mother grooms her to be a perfect little homemaker while her father pushes her to marry his business partner’s domineering son. When June resists, her whole world is shattered—suburbia isn’t the only prison for different women…
June’s parents commit her to Burrow Place Asylum, aka the Institution. With its sickening conditions, terrifying staff and brutal “medical treatments,” the Institution preys on June’s darkest secrets and deepest fears. And she’s not alone. The Institution terrorizes June’s fragile roommate, Eleanor, and the other women locked away within its crumbling walls. Those who dare speak up disappear… or worse. Trapped between a gruesome reality and increasingly sinister hallucinations, June isn’t sure where her nightmares end and real life begins. But she does know one thing: in order to survive, she must destroy the Institution before it finally claims them all.
Abuse, Gore, Violence
Before going into the book diary portion that will contain spoilers, I want to go over my overall thoughts about Nightingale as a whole and my rating.
First, let me start by saying that I have not read anything else by Amy Lukavics; however, I have heard she can write some really creepy stuff. Well, she certainly continued with the trend in Nightingale. My stomach was constantly turning with each page and not necessarily because of some of the gory descriptions, but because of how frightening this book is psychologically. It really messes with your mind, questioning everything with the unreliable narrator of June, in addition to being a commentary on bending/breaking gender and social norms (though do note the main character sometimes describes disembodiment and what exists when certain bodily features are missing, so there is a level of what I describe as gore).
To really get into the book: I finished the book and the only response I have that I have summed up in my 100% entry (see below), but that can even be summed up as: WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?! When I started reading this book, it again felt very much like a commentary on bending/breaking gender and social norms, and doing so in a way that really messes with your mind. June, the main character, is a young woman in the early 1950s who has dreams beyond being the conventional housewife, wanting to be a writer. And, as the synopsis states, she is placed in a mental institution to be “fixed” with horrid “treatments” that attest to how there was, in some instances, mistreatment of patients with mental illness and in psychiatric hospitals. Obviously this speaks beyond the early 1950s and is subject to more than just a post in a book diary on a blog, but I will keep it to just this. But to move forward, the patients in the book were treated less than human, which was a difficult aspect of the book to read (something to keep in mind if you decide to pick up this book).
Let’s touch on June and her writing because this is where I feel the most conflicted with this book. June’s writing centers on a science fiction story about aliens. To repeat my 100% entry, it is presented as an interesting parallel between how June feels out of place, her time in the mental institution and constricted in her role. But the way the story concludes, I question whether my reading this as a commentary on breaking gender norms is an actual focus of this novel. Was the ending a level of shock value entertainment to make the reader question everything they have just read? Or, as again, I state in my 100% entry, a big fuck you to the restrictions of gender norms? This is what makes it hard for me to rate this book because if it was for shock value, I do not think I can connect with the book in that aspect. Do not get me wrong, I am not putting down the book if that was the focus. I just think if that was the purpose of the ending, it is personally not something I like in a book- again, personal preference, nothing against the approach; however, if it is about the latter I think it was a very odd, yet fascinating way to explore gender norms and breaking them.
The book has caused some very conflicting thoughts and emotions within me. I know I keep referencing my 100% entry, but I really would love to get into the head of the author, or have a long conversation with Lukavics because I really would love to know whether or not my training as a historian has truly ruined me and made me want to over analyze everything, or if the deeper meaning that I am taking away from this book is truly there. If I had to guess without talking with the author, I would say yes, to some extent it is. Now whether to the extent I think it is, that could be a different answer.
I am still finding it difficult to give a star rating. I feel like there was more opportunities for the book that were missed, yet in its own strange way it spoke on a lot (at least that is what I took away from it). For now, I would say Nightingale is a solid (3 / 5).
For more in the moment thoughts on the book, you can read my diary entries below!
21% – I am not really sure where to start with this one. First, let me say I flew threw the first 21% of this book, reading it in about an hour. There is a lot going on- jumping back and forth between past and present, but I think Lukavics is setting the book up nicely by developing the main character of June and introducing her plot; however, I am flummoxed by where the hell this book is going in terms of the plot. Right now it seems like a social commentary on gender and social norms in the early 1950s- how women were meant to fit a specific role, and how women who fought against this role were deemed hysteric and could potentially end up in an asylum as the main character June has. This is a very interesting to myself as some of my research for my career delves into gender norms and hysteria (though I look earlier in the century), but I am not quite sure this is the main direction of the book. I feel like there are a few more layers that have yet to be revealed. Exploring that a little more- while June does bend gender norms, she is also suffering from hallucinations (at least that is what it seems to be at this point) and that also delves into the major questions of mental healthcare of the early 1950s and how it was at times used as a means of essentially experimentation. I don’t know, I guess I will have to continue to find out more on what is going on, but it definitely has my attention.
32% – Wow, I am completely creeped out by this novel. It deals with this psychiatric hospital that clearly has no concern for patient care and is terrifyingly cruel. It also makes these horrifying parallels to June’s alien abduction story (she is a writer) that deals with gruesome experiments and mind games. I would recommend this (thus far) to someone looking for a good psychological horror book. It is leaving me feeling uneasy and afraid for June, who I feel like I’ve grown so attached to because of how much I fear for her. It is like I know what is coming (or at least I feel like I know what is coming) in terms of her “treatments” and I feel powerless to do anything. To me that makes a great book when you have such strong feelings like that and want to help characters. So definitely tipping my metaphorical hat off to Lukavics.
41% – This last section I just finished up is prior to June entering the asylum gives more of a background on what led up to her being placed in the asylum. What really struck me is this last little bit that is so simple, yet really examines the pressures of gender and social norms (or any other “norm”) and how this can have such a profound affect on the psyche. June is having dinner and wants more mashed potatoes, but refrains out of fear of being criticized. Then, after dinner, in the middle of the night she goes to the kitchen, eats the leftover mashed potatoes with her hands, and then goes back to bed. The following morning when confronted she cannot remember what happened. Maybe I’m completely over thinking this entire book (that is probably the case), but I don’t know… this is really making me think, while at the same time scaring the shit out of me.
100% – I have no idea where the hell to start wrapping this up. I meant to do one last entry prior to reaching 100%, but as I got further and further into things after updating at 41%, everything got incredibly messy (both literally and metaphorically) and confusing very quickly. I just… WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?! I am not sure if I am simply flummoxed by the end of this book or if it just took a completely odd 180. I mean, the connection/parallel to June’s life with her alien novel was interesting; it really spoke about society and prescribed gender role norms and so forth. Yet, the way the book ended, I am just not sure if it was meant to be a shocking turn to the story or a huge fuck you to constricting gender role norms. If it was about shock, I am not sure how I feel about it. If it is a fuck you to restricting gender role norms, I want to applaud the book and author because Lukavics did it in a very strange way that I would not think something easily imagined.
Oh gosh, I just… I am sitting here staring at my Kindle not sure what to make of this. I really want it to be a commentary on gender norms, but I am not sure if that is me overthinking it. If only I could look into the mind of Amy Lukavics… I seriously would love to sit down and talk with her about this.
But again, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!