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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

April 29, 2022

The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

I don't often read books set before the 1900s, but I love biographical fiction. I particularly like biographical fiction featuring women I haven't heard of before. That's the case with Maya Rodale's The Mad Girls of New York. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of biographical fiction novel The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale
April 2022; Berkley; 978-0593436752
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); biographical fiction 

It's the 1890s and Nellie Bly has come to New York City to get her big break as a female journalist for one of the large newspaper outfits - hopefully, The World. Yet, it is almost unheard of for a newspaper to hire a female reporter - they are too delicate, too emotional. If they employ a female writer, it's for the ladies' pages to cover society weddings and events. 

Nellie Bly was a real female reporter in the late 1800s and she let nothing deter her. While working for the Pittsburgh Dispatch she covered the conditions of factory girls and took a reporting trip to Mexico. But what made her famous - and put her on the front page of The World - was a daring stunt. She goes undercover at a notorious insane asylum, a place where women are sent and never heard from again. She does not go in as a nurse or any other type of employee. Instead, she becomes "inconvenient" and gets herself committed. 

Blackwell's Island is also a real place. It is now called Roosevelt Island in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt. It had a prison, workhouses, a hospital for "incurables" (usually people with severe mental or physical disabilities), and an insane asylum. You can read more about the history of the island on the National Park Service's website. Nellie Bly and her exposé Ten Days in a Madhouse are mentioned in the entry.

Many of the other characters in Maya Rodale's book are based on real-life people. Rodale does admit to taking some liberties and I appreciate her pointing out which characters were stand-ins, who were themselves but possibly not at the correct point in time, etc. I loved all the characters. They are all fascinating and Rodale really brought them to life. Nellie Bly is a terrific character and there seems to be quite a bit about her life left to be told. I'm happy to see that The Mad Girls of New York is listed as book 1 in the Nellie Bly series. I'm looking forward to seeing more of all the characters.

A year or so ago I watched Good Girls Revolt which was based on women working at Newsweek in the 1960s. Seven decades after Bly, women still were writing for the ladies' pages or as researchers. Going back to Bly's time in this book and it is really shocking to realize how little had changed for women.

If you are looking for a strong, independent woman who was well ahead of her time, then you need to discover Nellie Bly and this book is an entertaining way to introduce yourself to her.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. sounds interesting. enjoyed your review and i like the bright cover
    sherry @ fundinmental