Book review | The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann


Author: J. Albert Mann

Genre: Literary fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult 

No. of pages: 288

Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

To be published on: 17th March 2020

Format: Netgalley

My rating: ★★★★✩

In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life.

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.

J. Albert Mann's The Degenerates is a book that's going to tug your heart. This is a book that shows the other side of the early 20th century in America. It was just not the war that was claiming normalcy in people's lives, but also the inhumane constitutionalization of Eugenics.

The Degenerates revolves around the lives of 4 young girls, just into their teens, living a life away from society, labelled by terms like 'morons', 'imbeciles', and 'idiots', just because they couldn't conform into the rules that makes a human 'normal.' London, Alice, Maxine and Rose are young girls, forced to live in The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded because no one wanted them. They are outcasts of the society. What is normal to them, is abnormal to others. As the story progresses, we will get to see the four girls grow, as individuals and they learn to be dependent on each other.

The authors covers various disabilities and 'normalcy' (that were not considered so in the 19th and early 20th century) through the girls admitted in the school, that made them weirdly different from others - that made them 'high-class morons.' the author covers their struggles at home and how they landed up in the school. The Degenerates is one such book that will make you think and empathize with the characters. The hardships that these children, with no fault of their own, were considered not worthy of being humans.

The author has really touched upon a sensitive topic in writing this book. This is going to make you feel thankful thay you were born in a much more welcoming era. This book is a story on love, friendship and sisterhood. The struggles of the characters felt so real (because once upon a time they were), and so raw. 

The book is going to feel very personal after reading about their struggles. Especially London's helplessness when she was trying to keep her hunger at bay, when all Maxine did her best to keep her sister safe from the school bullies, when Alice tries to confront her feelings of love and guilt at the same time, when the babies in the school were left alone to die because they were meant to anyway, and when Maxine couldn't show her mother how well she could sing and failed to get the only chance she'd get at asking her mother for forgiveness.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It's educational and emotional; it's heartbreaking and hopeful; and it's going to make you feel grateful about being born into the 21st century.


J. Albert Mann is the author of six novels for children, with S&S Atheneum Books for Young Readers set to publish her next work of historical fiction about the
Eugenics Movement and the rise of institutionalism in the United States. She is also the author of short stories and poems for children featured in Highlights for Children, where she won the Highlights Fiction Award, as well as the Highlights Editors’ Choice Award. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and is the Director of the WNDB Internship Grant Committee.
Jennifer is represented by Kerry Sparks at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

I received a book from the publisher in exchange of an honest and unbiased review. 

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