Title: The Degenerates
Author: J. Albert Mann
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 288
Wow! This book was seriously powerful. It shined a light on the lives of thousands of disenfranchised women who have been left to rot in institutions over the course of history. It really made me think about how lucky I am and all the real people who never got to have their stories told. The novel follows the lives of four girls who are imprisoned in a turn-of-the-century facility.
London is considered ruined because she got pregnant, she gets sent away while the boy who impregnated her faces no consequences. Alice is a Black girl with club foot, who has forbidden romantic feelings for her best friend Maxine. Maxine is devoted to her younger sister Rose, who has Down Syndrome, but harbors feelings of guilt that her same-sex attraction got her and Rose put her in this situation.
With spare, straightforward prose, J. Albert Mann gives readers a harrowing look into these girls’ desperate world. I felt that London’s character arc was a little too obvious at times (and her character a little too modern,) and I had trouble buying the main characters’ total lack of prejudices, considering the time period. However, I loved the strength of their friendship and the love Alice and Maxine had for each other. I’m not ashamed to admit that this book made me tear up a little. I raced through the second half of the book desperate to find out how it would end.