The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann
Author: J. Albert Mann
Published: March 17, 2020
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life-altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.
The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. I mean, is anyone surprised? Plus, this cover speaks to my soul. I found it randomly browsing at Books-a-Million, plus Ivan dragged me on a weekend fishing trip out in the humidity; I’m pretty sure I deserved it . . . so I bought it.
I liked how Mann stayed focused on the characters. I was also very impressed by her handle on the thinking of each girl, especially Rose, who has Down Syndrome. The simple fact is that back during that time, when society didn’t know what to do with someone, they sent them to an asylum. We’ve had this conversation before and y’all know that I very much support bringing back long term mental health facilities on a national scale. However, this school is not the way to do it. It echoes Ten Days in a Mad House by Nellie Bly. Doctors seemed to have made stuff up as they went along. While it was the reality, and in many ways it was understandable, these girls refused to accept reality. I liked how they didn’t give up on their dreams of a regular life. They clung to each other and seemed to consciously rise above their diagnoses. That kind of spirit is encouraging and uplifting.
It didn’t end like I expected, but I actually liked the ending. I absolutely recommend this to those who like an emotional read and I would absolutely give this book to older teens. I think they could learn a lot from it.