Ginny Richardson and her successful lawyer husband have one perfect child, Peyton. When Lucy, her second baby, is born with Down syndrome, her wealthy in-laws whisk the newborn to a “school” where she will live and be cared for. Ginny is told she was “enrolled” in the school, and by the time she was coherent after sedative injection after sedative injection, it was too late. Everyone except Ginny’s mother and best friend are told the baby died.
Two years later, Lucy is at Willowridge School when an investigative reporter did a series about the deprivations that the residents of that institution endured. They were neglected, abused, lived in filth.
Ginny’s best friend, Marsh, sent her the articles. Ginny becomes determined to visit Willowridge and see what the truth is. Marsh, a true best friend, drives her there with Peyton. When Ginny is told she can “check Lucy out” for the weekend, she does so. Marsha, Ginny, Peyton, and Lucy embark on a road trip.
Ginny is shocked at Lucy’s condition. No one had cleaned her when changing her diaper and there was a terrible diaper rash all over her. She had parasites in her stool and lice in her hair. She cringed whenever she saw a man with a beard. But quickly, Lucy calls Ginny mamma and loves to see and say, “moon.” But Ginny and Marsha are on the run with little money, and Ginny keeps questioning herself and her ability to care for her children.
Greenwood’s use of third person narrative to tell Ginny’s story is perfect. We understand Ginny’s insecurities because of her upbringing, her weight, her dependence on her husband Ab’s income. In fact, while Ginny managed the finances when she lived with her mother, now Ab doles out a weekly allowance for her to spend on household and personal items. Ginny questions what happened to Ab’s dream of a simple life in the country. When did things go wrong?
The novel takes place in many different time periods. There is the Summer of 1964 when Ab and an unexpectedly pregnant Ginny marry before they had planned to. That’s when Ab puts off going to Vietnam in to help build the infrastructure and gives in to his father’s wish that he attend Harvard Law School. September of 1971 is the present — Ginny has taken Lucy and fled with Marsha and Peyton on their way to Florida. In October of 1969, when the book begins, Ginny gives birth to Lucy. In 1968-1969, Ginny shares how marriage has changed the relationship she and Ab had cherished.
The story is also important as a social commentary, as it describes a time when “different” was bad, and while things had seemed to change slowly over the decades since then, it appears that right now, in our political climate, different is bad again. Over the course of this story, Ginny and Ab are made to examine their lives — Ab especially — and think about what is important to them. It can be hoped that we would do the same as we see Ab’s struggle to understand what is happening to his predictable, planned-out life.
Most of all, “Keeping Lucy” is a fascinating story that with a quick-moving plot. Once we’ve begun, we want to know what happens to all these characters. Especially Marsha, the best friend who gives up her life to help Ginny, but who also has some problems of her own. What does Ginny decide to do? Will she be able to stand up to her in-laws and maybe even her husband all by herself? And even Peyton, who, to be honest, is kind of a brat. Will he come around and love his sister after being used to the only child status?
Don’t miss this beautifully written historical fiction based on a true story! It would be a wonderful book club choice because of all the issues the story raises.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.