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The Bright Unknown

Elizabeth Byler Younts

“I live in a lunatic asylum with women considered insane and incurable – if they weren’t crazy when they came, they are now. None of us can leave. We’re all trapped. I’m trapped.”

– Brighton Friedrich, Thr Bright Unknown

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Book Review

‘The Bright Unknown’ is a story about uncovering the truth, seeking a family, and finding somewhere to belong. The novel spans two timelines following Brighton’s birth, upbringing, and daring escape from Riverside Home (Asylum) in the 1930s and 1940s and her adult life, known as Nell, in the 1990s.

Nell has a lot of hidden secrets from her past, and Riverside Home is one of them, as is her name – but what’s in a name when the world says you don’t exist in the first place?

Upon receiving a package of old photographs from Kelly, a reporter, Nell’s memories come flooding back – and they are not happy ones. Kelly patiently pursues the story and arranges to meet with Nell to return her pillowcase of undeveloped films and personal items from the asylum.

As Nell remembers her story as the young girl Brighton, the secrets unravel and uncover why she was kept in the dreary asylum. She was raised and educated by Nurse Joann, the same nurse who also cared for her mother, a patient at the asylum. Brighton’s best friend, Angel, shared her affliction of being a sane person captive among people with mental illness, having been abandoned as a young child to Riverside because of his albinism.

Brighton and Angel know more than ever that their chances of escape from Riverside are dire – but a future there is devoid of hope. After their escape, the two struggle to make a life for themselves outside the walls of the asylum with no identity, no money, and little knowledge of the world as they learn who they can and can’t trust if they’re to survive this new ‘Bright Unknown’.

Revisiting the past can be scary, but it is essential to healing. This hauntingly beautiful tale of a traumatised young girl, flaying the baggage of her past to look towards the hope of a bright and unknown life outside her prison of despair, is too rugged, too captivating, and too spirited to be passed by.

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