Kathlaine C. Gill (Night of Upside Down, 2017) and D. Clark Gill’s (So Special in Dayville, 2017) novel offers a coming-of-age story in a most unusual setting: a brutal sanitarium.
In 1912, New Hope Sanatorium is ostensibly a place of refuge and treatment for those that society has rejected, but in reality, it’s a house of horrors where evil staff members torture and experiment on patients. Gill and Gill’s dark fantasy novel gives readers a glimpse inside the walls of New Hope through the eyes of Christine Agnes Tupper, a teenage girl with a hunchback whose parents abandoned her there. Agnes is sweet and naïve, distraught at being cast off but pathetically grateful to now be useful. Her work as a “Mop Girl” offers her a freedom she never had while living as a recluse in her parents’ attic. For the first time, she has responsibilities, friends, and a purpose. Her optimism is a balm for the hopeless, and she discovers her own core of strength and confidence. The authors use her simple nature to soften the scenes of horror, frequently infusing them with a black humor. There are deformed rats nesting in Agnes’ room, for example, but she sees them as good company. Later, when she stumbles upon a scene of mass death, she promises all 57 dead patients to “send someone back to fix those pipes.” Gill and Gill’s narrative is certainly dark, and its violence does become gratuitous at times. However, Agnes is a creative counterbalance to it—a sweet and unexpected heroine whose point of view acts as a filter for the horrific happenings. Meanwhile, Dr. Richard C. Babbitty, the founder and director at the sanitarium, is a perfectly imbalanced villain, and it’s painful to watch Agnes slowly come to the realization that her mentor and father figure isn’t actually a good man.
Unexpected humor and an unusual but endearing heroine bring light to an otherwise bleak tale.