Friday, February 12, 2016

Ten Days a Madwoman

Ten Days a Madwoman
Deborah Noyes
Viking, 2016 124 pgs
Grades 4-8

Noyes traces the exciting life and career of real-life Victorian heroine, Nellie Bly. Bly's professional career is highlighted following her exploits as a newspaper reporter in a man's world performing escalatingly daring stunts from traveling around the pre-airplane world in seventy-two days to spending a night in a haunted house. The adventure referred to from the cover describes Bly's break-through undercover assignment: ten days locked in a mental institution for women. This expose changed the healthcare system for the mentally ill in New York City and raised awareness in the public. In between different stints as a news reporter, Noyes traces Bly's marriage to a rich man many years her senior, her disastrous attempt at running his business empire after his demise and her struggles with her family. As Noyes travels through the adult life of Nellie, she offers accounts of her childhood interspersed on darker pages as to not confuse the timeline. Extensive source notes of both text and photos, as well as a bibliography and index round out the volume.

Noyes presents a very readable account of the life of one of the most interesting and notorious women of her time: Nellie Bly. Bly carves her place in a man's world, breaking into the boy's club of journalism and revolutionizing the industry. We see the motivation behind her ambition: the need to support her family and fear of being dependent on men who cannot fulfill their end of the marriage bargain, as was the case with her mother. Noyes paints a vibrant picture of Bly, but does not romanticize the dashing figure, expelling many of the myths surrounding her, including the true story behind how she acquired her famous monkey. Much of the book is spent on Bly's two most famous escapades: the days spent in the mental institution and the trip around the world, but all of Bly's life is covered. Generous photos and illustrations are included throughout the pages of text and the book itself is thoughtfully and attractively designed. The flash-backs to Bly's childhood add interest and dimension to the story and are laid out carefully enough to not be confusing. Noyes did her research carefully and is careful not to fictionalize her account, only adding information that is documented. Every year children are assigned biography assignments where they need to present the life of the figure they read about while dressed as that person. We always struggle with finding enough women to satisfy female readers, not because publishers are unwilling to publish books about women, but because there just aren't that many women who were allowed to do interesting things in the past. Bly, who was ambitious and fearless enough to break barriers, is an exception and serves as an inspiration to young women today. This book is a welcome addition to the biography shelf and will be an easy sell during the biography assignments.

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