Girl, Interrupted meets American Horror Story in 1970s Staten Island, in the evocative new book from the New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Collector. Fact, fiction, and urban legend blend in this haunting story about a young woman mistakenly imprisoned at Willowbrook State School, the real-life institution later shuttered for its horrendous abuses.Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.
Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.
Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined . . .
Praise from Indie Booksellers & Librarians ~
“The Lost Girls of Willowbrook combines historical fiction with suspense to create a heartfelt, poignant portrayal of New York’s infamous Willowbrook School. Ellen Marie Wiseman deftly describes the atrocities committed at the school while giving voices to the victims and creating a heart pounding page-turner. This was one of the best books I’ve read this year.” – Cyndi Larsen, Avon Public Library (Avon, CT)
“Never forget. The tragedy of the Willowbrook School was revealed in the 1970's, but it is already a dusty memory. Thank goodness for historians like Ellen Marie Wiseman who refuse to let the horrors inflicted on the disabled be relegated to the forgotten attic of time. The Lost Girls of Willowbrookj is historical fiction blended with a riveting mystery that makes for a "must-read" of 2022.” – Pamela Klinger-Horn, Valley Bookseller (Stillwater, MN)
“Uniquely plotted, this is a fascinating inner-look inside a place we have only heard about through urban legends and grainy news reels. At times the reader must stop and remind themselves that this historical fiction is based on thorough research, meaning the conditions we are given a front row seat to are not just the stuff of nightmares, but were actually experienced by real people. And the most terrifying part? How recently these events took place. Compulsively readable and incredibly intriguing to research on the side as you read.” – Kerry Clemm, Anderson’s Bookshop (Chicago, IL)
“In a story so gripping you'll be unable to pull your eyes from the page, the author tells us a tale based on the unbelievable reality that was Willowbrook in New York a half-century ago. This is a bone-chilling narrative written by a master storyteller. Characters step from the page fully formed. The dialogue is superbly crafted, and the outcome is... well, you'll have to read that for yourself. A warning: At times, rising anger will make you want to throw the book at the nearest wall. Just keep going. It's definitely worth the read. I love this story!” – Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore (Spokane, WA)
“What an unbelievable story! I can't wait to rave about it. There once was a horrible children's mental institution - grossly overcrowded and understaffed where the mentally disabled residents were starved, beaten, abused and made to sit in their own filth without medical care or education. Sounds like something out of a Dickens novel, but the scariest part of this story is that it is based on true events- Willowbrook State School was real as was the serial killer who worked there. An intense story that will captivate readers of true crime as well as historical thrillers but be prepared for a long night reading with the lights on.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library (Austin, TX)
Author interview with Ellen ~
Author interview with Ellen ~
What’s a good elevator pitch for THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK?
Fact, fiction, and urban legend blend in this haunting story about a young woman mistakenly imprisoned at Willowbrook State School, the real-life institution later shuttered for its horrendous abuses.
What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
I enjoy gardening, cooking, swimming, going to the drive-ins, boating, (when there’s not two feet of snow on the ground) and spending time with my kids and grandkids.
How do you start your day (a routine of sorts?)
Oh how I wish I could be one of those people who get up in the morning and just start writing, but unfortunately I can’t write until after some of my real life “chores” are done, like tidying up the house, throwing in a load of laundry, walking the dog, watering the garden, making phone calls, answering important emails, etc. I think I’m that way because once I start writing I don’t know when to stop. (dinner is late sometimes!)
What is something about you that would surprise people?
I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, or rats. I save snapping turtles from the road no matter how big and scary they are, I’ve broken up a fight between a stallion and a gelding, and I’ve returned a loose bull to our neighbor, who thought I was crazy when he saw me bringing that big ole’ bull down the road.
Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?
Does babysitting my grandkids count?
Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?
My agent is my first reader, then my editor.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)
It took two years and 72 rejections before I found an agent, but he sold THE PLUM TREE to the editor-in-chief at Kensington Publishing in three weeks.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel about eugenics in America, which had a more profound effect on our lives than most people realize.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
In THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK I love the big reveal chapter, when all of the pieces of the puzzle come together!
What would your dream job be if you didn’t write books? (assuming this is your dream job!)
I’d love to be a marine biologist.
What was some unique research you had to do for a book?
While researching COAL RIVER, I went into a coalmine and visited a haunted jail.
What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?
I’d say the biggest downfall is the constant doubt I have while working on a manuscript. The best part is meeting my readers in person. Pushing “send” to my editor comes in at a close second.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Yes! As always, thank you doesn't seem sufficient for their continued encouragement and enthusiasm, but I'll say it again anyway. Thank you for reading my books, for coming to my events, for cheering me on, and for spreading the word about my work. None of this would be possible without your support.
I hope THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK inspires you with Sage’s ability to turn heartbreak into a force for good and entertains you with her determination in the face of danger. But most importantly, I hope you are troubled by the cruel reality of Willowbrook and institutions of its sort. I hope you’ll be stirred by how people lived, worked, suffered, and eventually triumphed with the closure of Willowbrook. What happened there should serve as a reminder to us all that we need to be more protective of the most vulnerable among us, and that every human being has the right to learn and grow, and above all, to be treated with kindness, respect, and empathy.