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Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  1,681 ratings  ·  410 reviews
"A gripping detective story and haunting memoir. It will leave you breathless." --Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs.

The Great Michigan Read for 2013-14. A Heartland (Midwest) Bestseller. A Washington Post Best Book, 2009.

Beth Luxenberg was an only child, or so her son Steve believed. But secrets have a way of working free of their keepers, as this true story reveals.

A
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Hardcover, 401 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Hyperion (first published January 1st 2009)
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456th out of 1,395 books — 6,768 voters
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26th out of 31 books — 30 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Abby
I stumbled upon an advance copy of Annie's Ghosts and picked it up thinking my mom might like to read it. Intrigued by some of the blurbs, somehow I started it and found myself carrying it around in search of free moments to read for the next several days--Mom would have to wait her turn. Obviously, family dynamics and hidden, secret things resonate with everyone. Although time does sweep back and forth, even within chapters, the author has done a great job crafting a narrative that even stands ...more
Claire
Selected as the Great Michigan Read for 2013 and 2014. I read this book over the course of one weekend! I love history especially Michigan history. This book touches on all sorts of subjects from family secrets, Michigan history, mental illness, immigration and discrimination. The book reads like fiction another bonus! A title that is open to all sorts of discussions! Kudos to Detroit native Steve Luxenberg!
Megan
I read this book this month as part of my 12/12/12 TBR challenge: 12 books in 12 months that have languished for a year or more in my “TBR” (To Be Read) pile. The bullet on this one is that I’m glad the challenge made me finally read it, for a variety of reasons. It’s thought-provoking and educational (in a good way)...definitely worth a read if you’re interested in mid-20th century history, the history of medicine, or investigative journalistic techniques.

I was first drawn to “Annie’s Ghosts” w
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Louise
Part mystery, part investigative journalism, and part family history, Annie’s Ghosts is about the discovery of family secret. Details of the secret unfolds like a mystery with writing that’s easy to read thanks to Steve Luxenberg’s investigative journalism background.

Steve discovers that his mother, who always made the point of telling everyone she was an only child, had a sister that almost no one knew about. Unfortunately, this secret is only unearthed on his mother’s deathbed. With only a few
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Terry
I'm wavering between two and three stars for this book. The author's family past is definitely fascinating--not just for what happens to his aunt, but because they live through enormous moments in world and American history (the turn-of-the-century wave of immigration to America, the early twentieth century prosperity of Detroit, the Jewish diaspora, the Depression, the Holocaust...). While a reader shares in Luxenberg's journey of discovery, the reader also shares in his frustrations, which in ...more
Amy Huntley
I was fascinated by this book--and I usually don't enjoy reading non-fiction--let alone feel compelled to turn the pages of it. I wanted to know more about the family circumstances that created a situation where a woman would completely turn her back on her sister. Where she would hide her existence so completely that her own children would be astonished to learn she'd ever existed. But even more compelling was the way Luxenberg brought together an entire society and history (of Michigan and of ...more
Kricket
i just wrote a ridiculously long review and x'd out of it by accident without saving. it is gone and i am lazy. you will never find out what i really think.
Hybrid Creature (devours books instead of brains)
Non-fiction is not my favorite genre but this book went to the top of my favorite non-fiction list. Admittedly, it is a small list but the fact that it goes to the top should not be ignored.

I think one of the reasons that this book worked so well was the detective work that was required to unearth a family secret. In doing so, there was a combination of drama, research, historical facts and first hand personal accounts.

I am a bit of a history nerd and learning more about the history of asylums w
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Sarah Weathersby
I was immediately intrigued when I read the description of this book. It's part memoir, part mystery, and the other part I'll get to later.

The author, Steve Luxenberg, is an investigative journalist for the Washington Post. Shortly before his mother dies, he learns that his mother, Beth Luxenberg, had a sister. He doesn't quite process this new information until he starts to replay in his head the narrative of his mother's life as an only child. Mom always brought it up that she was an only chil
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Lynn
Annie's Ghost is a book about secrets. The secret that inspires the novel is Annie, a mentally ill/ disabled Aunt that was hidden from family and friends for most of her life.

As Luxenberg investigates Annie's life and the extent to which her life was hidden, he uncovers multiple secrets from an era when people kept their mouths shut and did not share the most intimate details of their lives - a polar opposite of the Facebook/Twitter revolution.

During this journalistic investigation we learn of
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Nicole
In Annie’s Ghosts, Steve Luxenberg (a Washington Post journalist) tells of discovering the secret his mother kept from him and his siblings—they had an aunt who had been institutionalized at age 21. As Luxenberg searches for answers about his aunt and why his mother elected to change her entire family history, he discovers just how difficult it is to obtain records from a time when mental illness was a secret shame for families. Even after he gets legal documents giving him the authority to act ...more
Lisa
I first heard about 'Annie's Ghost' from an NPR interview with the author, Steve Luxenberg several months ago. I was captivated by the story he told and his articulateness. I came across the book again while reading a review on an ancestry research board. Everyone seemed to find it a worthwhile read so as an avid fan of genealogy, I reserved it at the library and picked it up this week. The book does not disappoint. The author is an investigative journalist who was left with a family mystery whe ...more
Laura
The cover of this book accurately says it is "equal parts memoir, social history, and riveting detective story" and I would add genealogical study as well. After his mother's death, the author learns that Mom had a sister. This is the story of his search, not only for the story of the sister's life, but the story behind why his mother had kept her sister's existence a secret. Along the way he includes well researched information about many topics, including the history of Detroit, the Holocaust ...more
Denise
This is a story of a family with a hidden secret that a mother was hiding from her family about a sister that spent the most of her life in an institution. The sister, Annie, lived at home until she was 21 and then spent the rest of her life institutionalized. The mother's children found out about their hidden aunt not long before their mother died but did not ask her about her sister. After his mother's death then Steve the author tried to piece together the story and why his mother hid this fr ...more
Weavre
Jul 23, 2009 Weavre rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Weavre by: Amazon Vine
Annies' Ghosts is a beautifully told story, and could have been a great book if it had been about 100 pages shorter. Too often, the gripping, personal narrative was inexplicably interrupted by a dry-as-a-textbook history of Detroit. A better editor might have insisted on cutting that material and focusing on the heart of one family's secret.

This story gripped me by the second page, and for a time I thought I'd not be able to put it down ... until I found myself slogging through Detroit's old cig
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Lisa
"Annie's Ghosts" by Steve Luxenberg is a fairly lengthy but enjoyable historical memoir. A family secret is discovered which shakes the entire Luxenberg sibling world. Through Steve's detailed family research additional family secrets are discovered. This memoir takes us through many decades and several generations of family and friends that have had contact with Steve's mother throughout her life. We not only explore Steve's family, but also explore war and Jew extermination and how this affect ...more
Patrick
A journalist friend back in Michigan was forming a book discussion group at her workplace and she had selected Annie's Ghosts as the first book for the group. It was a fascinating look at how families keep secrets (something which might have been more prevalent and done more effectively pre-internet days) as well as how inhumanely the mentally ill were once treated.

The book resonated with me on a couple of levels as I have family members with mental health issues and I know so very little about
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Cassondra
B.A.B.A.E.L. The subject matter here is fascinating: the stuff of Hollywood films or interesting novels. After his mother's death (and not from a "deathbed confession" as the book's current blurb claims), journalist Steve Luxenberg learns something startling -- He has an aunt. Or rather, had. A letter from a cemetery asking about routine maintenance for a grave helps Steve begin to coax this particular family skeleton out of the closet. See, his mother's sister, Annie, was institutionalized. And ...more
Carrie
This book was so completely captivating and moving. I was hooked from the beginning and found myself experiencing the ups and downs as the author relayed them, feeling frustrated with the legal run around and the constant hope of finding a picture of Annie. This journey into one family's history is very representative of the mental health care and stigma attached to it and those who were disabled in much of the 20th century, and is part of a system that goes back so far into the past its almost ...more
Mary
This book, based in Michigan tells the true story of a woman who hides the very existence of her sister from her family because of her sister's physical, then mental handicap for which she becomes institutionalized. The story thoroughly enlightened me on the standard attitude of the times towards people who suffered a physical or mental handicap, almost making it seem that if you were physically handicapped, you were most likely mentally disabled too. Having a sister born with a physical handica ...more
Claire
Luxenberg is a journalist who found out a family secret and decided to write a book about it. His mother, born 1917, had a younger sister who was committed to a mental hospital at age twenty-one. His mother kept her sister's existence a secret and always told people that she was an only child.

The family do not find this secret out until after their mother has died, so they cannot ask her about it. We never hear her side of the story, but Luxenberg tries to piece together her motivations as the b
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Patricia M.
Great book. Annie’s Ghost is a memoir about a man searching for information on an aunt he never knew existed who was in Eloise mental institution all her adult life. It appealed to me because my grandmother on my father’s side, whom I never met, was confined to the Traverse City mental hospital. I thought through his search, I might learn more about what it might have been like for my grandmother. I received that and much more. Luxenberg gives a thorough account of changes in the way mental pati ...more
Babs
Every family has it's secrets. Recently my family discovered, thanks to social media, an illigitimate cousin living in Scotland, and the century old family feud that precipitated the abrupt immigration of my grandparents to America (thank God). As Steve Luxenberg states "emigrating to a strange and distant county...is a serious and relatively difficult matter, requiring a degree of courage and resourcefulness not possessed by weaklings in any class."

In this book Luxenberg retells the tale of hi
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Mavelyn
Memoirs, being true stories of actual people's lives, always intrigue me. To be able to glimpse into the history of a person is such a raw experience. When the past recalls secrets that have been buried over time, the story is even more fascinating. Steve Luxenberg reveals a family secret that was hidden his entire life, and how he ultimately brought to life the story of his Aunt Annie.
Almeta
I read it through to the end because of some of my interests.

Interesting to genealogists. Interesting to potential journalists. Interesting to Holocaust memoirists. Interesting to Michigan nostalgists. Interesting to mental health historians.

But as a whole, I personally just can’t think of anyone who would be interested.
Caitlin
I saw Luxenberg speak at an author talk sponsored by my local public library before I read the book. I had the privilege of sitting next to his cousin David from the book and it was a really interesting experience, attending a book discussion when you haven't read the book yet. Luxenberg made a point of explaining in the Q&A afterward that he was not angry with his mother for keeping her secret as she did--that it's self-centered to make something about us that had nothing to do with us--and ...more
Karen
Not my favorite, but interesting I guess because of the area in MI in which it took place. I felt as if this could have been better told as a tight article in Vanity Fair than as this book length. And are the mentally ill any better off today than Annie? Not sure............
Alyssa
To be honest, I would never pick up a book like this, non-fiction, family secret revealed. Its not that I don't like non-fiction but it seems like such a heavy subject. I started this book for my book club I recently joined. I am so glad I did read it. I loved it from the start to finish. It did get sad at times, and some things were quite "heavy" to read. But the journey Steve took me on with his family secret was very captivating. Steve is a very good writer, doesn't make any parts dull or bor ...more
Denise
This was a Michigan Reads selection. If you grew up in the shadow of "Eloise", the mental health hospital outside Detroit, you remember the wide lawns with patients sitting on the big wooden swings behind the tall fence. This story is about one girl who ended up there for most of her life, and why she was put there by her family. It is not a fast book because it explains the mental health hospital developement over the last 100 years along side the story of how Annie disappeared into the system. ...more
Amber
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Post #5 (new): A starred Kirkus review 1 26 Mar 27, 2009 02:49PM  
Blog post #4 : The challenge of memory, part 2 1 16 Mar 11, 2009 07:24AM  
Blog post #3: The art of memoir 1 9 Mar 04, 2009 06:51AM  
Post #2 to my GoodReads blog 1 17 Feb 27, 2009 07:19AM  
From the author: My GoodReads blog 1 25 Feb 24, 2009 06:13AM  
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Steve Luxenberg is an author and an associate editor of The Washington Post. He has worked for more than 30 years as a reporter and editor. Two projects that he edited at The Post have won Pulitzer Prizes for his reporters. He grew up in Detroit, the primary setting for his nonfiction book, "Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret" (Hyperion, hardcover, May 2009; paperback, May 2010).

The b
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“Secrets, I've discovered, have a way of working free of their keepers.” 4 likes
“Without really trying, I have become a collector of other families' secrets. Whenever I tell someone about my detective work, the first question is invariably something like this: 'Can you tell me the secret?' Sure, I say. The next question often is: 'Want to hear my family's secret?” 2 likes
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