Friday, February 21, 2020

Book Beginnings: The Illness Lesson

Cover art by Michelle Kingdom
Cover design by Emily Mahon

The Illness Lesson, by Clare Beams (Doubleday, February 2020). This is the book's first sentence:
The first of the birds Caroline mistook for her own mind's work.

About the Book:
At their newly founded school, Samuel Hood and his daughter Caroline promise a groundbreaking education for young women. But Caroline has grave misgivings. After all, her own unconventional education has left her unmarriageable and isolated, unsuited to the narrow roles afforded women in 19th century New England. 
When a mysterious flock of red birds descends on the town, Caroline alone seems to find them unsettling. But it's not long before the assembled students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms: rashes, seizures, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. One by one, they sicken. Fearing ruin for the school, Samuel overrules Caroline's pleas to inform the girls' parents and turns instead to a noted physician, a man whose sinister ministrations--based on a shocking historic treatment--horrify Caroline. As the men around her continue to dictate, disastrously, all terms of the girls' experience, Caroline's body too begins to betray her. To save herself and her young charges, she will have to defy every rule that has governed her life, her mind, her body, and her world.
Initial Thoughts:

I was interested in this book because I had heard that the plot echoed the story of Bronson Alcott and his attempts to establish a similar school in the 19th century. And the hints are definitely there, but this book is so much more than that. I'm about midway through it, and it's turning out to be (by far) the best debut novel I've read in quite a while. Clare Beams is a wonderful discovery! Hoping the second half doesn't let me down.

Happy Friday, everyone! And happy reading! And have a lovely weekend.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.


  1. I am definitely curious. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy.

  2. I love the cover. And the story sounds smart and imaginative, which appeals to me right now. Thanks for sharing it on Book Beginnings.


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