The Second Life of Mirielle West Book Review

No Spoiler Alerts!

All of my book and film reviews are free of spoiler alerts, but you might not know that if this is your first time checking one of them out. So, sit back and relax while you learn a little bit about:

Title: The Second Life of Mirielle West

Author: Amanda Skenandore

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Kensington Books

Trigger Warnings: Suicide

Spoilers?: None

Publishing Date: July 27, 2021

* To read my interview with Amanda Skenandore, author of The Second Life of Mirielle West click here!

Do you ever find that you stick closely with one literary genre, forgetting so many other valuable stories are being told by brilliant authors? I do. That’s why I decided that it’s time I spread my wings and fly outside the walls of YA, contemporary fiction, and thrillers. Though they’ll probably always be my favorite, it makes good sense to at least explore other genres and stop limiting myself, right?

I wanted to start with historical fiction because that’s something that’s always frightened me. Why? Well, in school, I wasn’t at all interested in history. Even now, you won’t catch me watching historical films or documentaries. My eyes glaze over when I hear discussions on our country’s founding fathers. However, as I learn more about the historical fiction genre, I understand that the precise goal in historical fiction is to add unique, interesting, and creative elements to existing history. The result? Wildly entertaining tales that enrich our knowledge of history without putting us to sleep! The really good stories have us itching to learn more about the real events at the root of the book.

For my first go at historical fiction, I decided to try Amanda Skenandore’s The Second Life of Mirielle West.

Check out this sneak peek summary of the book from Goodreads. My review will be below the summary!

Snag your early sneak peek at this thought-provoking novel about a silent film star’s wife whose intoxicatingly glamorous life of star-studded Hollywood parties in the Roaring ‘20s comes to an abrupt end when she’s forced onto a train headed to America’s only leper colony. Inspired by the little-known true history of Carville, a Louisiana institution where thousands of Americans were stripped of their rights and involuntarily quarantined throughout the 20th century, Amanda Skenandore weaves an extraordinary story of resilience, hope, and one woman’s journey from stigma to self-worth.

1920s Los Angeles: Socialite Mirielle West’s days are crowded with shopping, luncheons, and prepping for the myriad of glittering parties she attends with her actor husband, Charlie. She’s been too busy to even notice the small patch of pale skin on the back of her hand. Other than an occasional over-indulgence in gin and champagne, which helps to numb the pain of recent tragedy, Mirielle is the picture of health. But her doctor insists on more tests, and Mirielle reluctantly agrees.

The diagnosis—leprosy—is devastating and unthinkable. Changing her name to shield Charlie and their two young children, Mirielle is exiled to rural Louisiana for what she hopes will be a swift cure. But the hospital at the Carville Leprosarium turns out to be as much a prison as a place of healing. Deaths far outnumber the discharges, and many patients have languished for years. Some are badly afflicted, others relatively unscathed. For all, the disease’s stigma is just as insidious as its physical progress.

At first, Mirielle keeps her distance from other residents, unwilling to accept her new reality. Gradually she begins to find both a community and a purpose at Carville, helping the nurses and doctors while eagerly anticipating her return home. But even that wish is tinged with uncertainty. How can she bridge the divide between the woman, wife, and mother she was and the stranger she’s become? And what price is she willing to pay to protect the ones she loves?

My review:

            I am happy to report that, when done as well as Amanda Skenandore does it, historical fiction can be just as thrilling, emotional, and impactful for readers who normally shy away from the genre! You do not have to like history to get lost in this fascinating story, which is, at it’s heart, more about the human condition than it is history. That said, it’s devastating to acknowledge that The Second Life of Mirielle West is rooted in real U.S. historical events.

            The author brilliantly made Mirielle a mother of young children, which adds significantly to the level of empathy we feel for her being separated from them. Early on, she tells the doctor that her baby is teething, and our hearts ache at the thought of her grief knowing she cannot comfort him. When it becomes clear that Mirielle isn’t going home anytime soon, we must settle into that reality right along with her.

            Many people think that leprosy is a thing of the past. The truth is, there were over 127,500 new cases of leprosy diagnosed in 2020! Amanda researched not only the disease’s physical effects, but the emotional damage it does to it’s victims, as many people are alienated from their jobs, friends, family, and society for years after diagnosis. For some, it’s their entire lives.

            This book would be good for anyone who loves stories of overcoming odds, rising above tragedy, and stories that show the indominable strength of the human spirit. Amanda showed some of the gruesome realities of how leprosy patients were experimented on, and the inhumane treatment they suffered. However, she never allowed the reader to lose hope, which is one of the reasons this story will stay with me long after I’ve lent it out (never to get it back) to a friend!