By Kathy Hepinstall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.00, 270 pages
Iris Dunleavy has strong views against slavery and the abuse ingrained within the system. Her own husband and members of their community accept slave ownership as a given right. When Iris speaks out against slavery, she is declared criminally insane and sent to a remote mental institution on an island in Florida. Upon her arrival, Iris finds a mixture of truly mad residents and people in pain. Most notably, she meets Ambrose Weller, a soldier traumatized by the Civil War. While fighting against her doctors and the archaic treatment she receives, Iris finds new strength. With Ambrose by her side, she begins plotting an escape from the island. Blue Asylum is a beautiful and disturbing novel about abuse of power. Author Kathy Hepinstall highlights the injustices of the time period by infusing them into Iris’ personal story. The interactions between characters are complex. Hepinstall has created a novel that is impossible to put down and hard to forget.
Reviewed by Barbara Cothern