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We’re All Mad Here

Mindy McGinnis’s A Madness So Discreet is an intensely dark and unapologetically feminist take on the Sherlock and Watson trope.

We’re All Mad Here

BOOK REPORT for A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Cover Story: We Could Have Had It All
BFF Charm: Yay x 3, Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Charades
Bonus Factors: Feminism, Vigilante Justice
Anti-Bonus Factors: Trigger City, Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Sherlock Minus Watson

Cover Story: We Could Have Had It All

This cover comes *so close* to greatness. Her anguished pose, hair a blur of motion as that creepy AF hand wrapped around her ankle drags her down into the darkness, even the word “madness” lurking just beneath the surface. But what’s with the detailing around the “so”? It reminds me of how people used to type cat face before emojis were a thing. :3

The Deal:

There weren’t many options for a pregnant teen back in the ’90s… the 1890s, that is. And that’s how Grace Mae, the daughter of a prominent Boston senator, finds herself thrown in an insane asylum while her parents pretend she’s on vacation so as not to risk their good standing in society, because priorities. Grace, whose eidetic memory won’t allow her to forget the horrors of her past or of daily life in the asylum—residents are viewed as prisoners, are routinely physically and verbally abused, and have to fight each other for table scraps—hasn’t uttered a word since her arrival. When Grace meets a doctor performing experimental surgeries on those patients deemed non-rehabilitatable, she desperately wants the operation as a way to permanently forget her pain. But Dr. Thornhollow, who has a keen interest in the relatively new field of criminal psychology, has a different idea: facilitating Grace’s escape and recruiting her to help him catch a killer.

BFF Charm: Yay x 3, Eventually

Grace finds instafriends and fiercely loyal protectors in fellow asylum residents Nell and Elizabeth, and I want to be BFFs with all of them. Grace doesn’t talk but is a great listener as a result, Nell is straight-up hilarious and always down for an adventure, and Elizabeth, a sweet girl who occasionally talks to an invisible string, is (ironically) the voice of reason in the group.

At first, Dr. Thornhollow gives off a somewhat pretentious, ain’t-nobody-got-time-for-your-silly-human-emotions vibe. But once you get past his robotic exterior, you can see that he really does care about others in his own unique way.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

It’s a nice change of pace to read a historical novel with nary a love interest in sight. There is a minor character who has a crush on Grace, though, and while not particularly swoonworthy, Nell has no shortage of raunchy innuendo at the ready:

'’E’s got a burning but the candle wax has gone soft.'
'Nell!' Lizzie objected.
'What? Oh, ’ere’s another one. ’E’d like to start a fire, but the wick won’t stand.'

Talky Talk: Charades

Since Grace doesn’t talk upon her arrival at the asylum, we first learn about her through her thoughts, feelings, and memories. Though she occasionally communicates in writing, conversations between her, Nell, and Elizabeth (and String) soon become natural as they learn to read her gestures and facial expressions as easily as if she had uttered words. But there’s a deeper meaning to Grace’s charades—some know her as a high-society girl, some as a “mute madwoman,” and some as a detective-in-training, but who is the real Grace?

Bonus Factor: Feminism

This is the 1800s, y’all, and much of this book explores the idea that otherwise “sane” women who did anything deemed unladylike were put in asylums simply because men had the power to do so. There’s Grace, who might as well have gotten herself pregnant for all the repercussions there were for the dude involved (read: zero). There’s a woman whose words—“my monthlies hurt like the devil”—were twisted and used against her by her stepfather, who mansplained it away as her thinking her menstrual blood is made of actual demons. There’s another woman whose husband just wanted an excuse to divorce her so he could marry someone else. And then there’s Nell:

'The true reason for her being admitted here is that she is a young woman who takes an active interest in men and feels no shame in it. The world can’t understand this behavior; therefore the girl must be insane.'

We also meet a character who’s politically active in feminist groups and campaigns for women’s rights, and—perhaps the most refreshing—the women in this book treat each other with dignity and respect. They look out for each other and develop meaningful friendships without a hint of cattiness, backstabbing, or “frenemy” drama.

Bonus Factor: Vigilante Justice

When the system is stacked against you, sometimes you have no choice but to take the law into your own hands—and these women aren’t afraid to get their hands a little dirty.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Trigger City

The list of trigger warnings for this book should be as long as that of a prescription drug’s side effects (preferably sung by Boyz II Men to make it easier to bear), and there are only so many I can list without veering into spoiler territory. If you’re diving into the dark world of A Madness So Discreet, be prepared for frank portrayals of abuse, murder, rape, violence against women, self-harm, and suicide.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting

UM, THEY LOCK THEIR PREGNANT TEENAGE DAUGHTER AWAY IN AN INSANE ASYLUM BECAUSE THEIR REPUTATION IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THEM THAN HER LIFE. NEXT QUESTION.

Casting Call:

Sophie Turner as Grace

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes Dr. Thornhollow

Sharon Rooney as Nell

Dark hair and sex on the brain? Sounds like Rae to me.

Danielle Fishel as Elizabeth

Topanga and Elizabeth are both short, fiercely loyal ladies who don’t give a shiz if you think they’re weird.

Relationship Status: Sherlock Minus Watson

As I pieced together your puzzle, I grew intrigued by your dark, mysterious nature. I wanted to be your sidekick, book, but ultimately you were just too intense for me to handle. Although I can’t take the case, I wish you all the best on your next grisly adventure.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought this book because I’m a grown-ass woman and I do what I want. I received no gold Galleons, silver Sickles, bronze Knuts, or muggle money for this review. A Madness So Discreet is available now.

Britt's photo About the Author: Britt lives in San Francisco, CA. When she’s not sprawled out on her classroom floor after a long day of droppin’ knowledge, she can be found at home reading YA and/or reminding Netflix that yes she is still watching, thank you very much. Her patronus is a bespectacled giraffe.