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Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  2,232 Ratings  ·  482 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.

Hardcover, 401 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Hyperion (first published January 1st 2009)
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Apr 13, 2009 Abby rated it really liked it
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
Oct 31, 2009 Terry rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 24, 2013 Claire rated it it was amazing
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!
Jun 23, 2009 Louise rated it liked it
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
Feb 01, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it
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
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.
Jan 24, 2017 Jeanette rated it it was ok
I wavered between 2 and 3 stars. 2.5 stars but not rounded up. Because of the way it's told, its length and its voice. It would have been so more compelling if the author's deceased mother would have had some emotional or factual input BEFORE the search. In other words, if she had told the story of what she knew or what she had "forgotten". That she did tell everyone and for long decades that she was an only child, and repeatedly! Well, that was how perceptions in those times could be considered ...more
Jun 18, 2010 Denise rated it it was ok
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
Amy Huntley
Jan 20, 2014 Amy Huntley rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 24, 2009 Weavre rated it liked it
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
Jan 10, 2017 Nan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My friend Shannon recommended this book to me after learning that I've begun a research project into my family history. It was a great recommendation. As a writer, it showed me possible ways to explore what I'm doing, but as a reader, it was a stunning, heartbreaking story.

I want to write a longer review, but I don't know that I can right now. As I said, this book spoke to me as a researcher. But more than that, it spoke to me as the daughter of a woman that was institutionalized for bipolar dis
Jun 01, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
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
One of those book length magazine articles, though it kept me reading.
His mother always described herself as an only child, but in her last years her kids discovered she’d had a sister who spent most of her life in a county hospital for the insane. Since this son is an investigative reporter he researched the family secret.
He got his aunt’s medical records and learned she was diagnosed as both retarded and schizophrenic. Professionals he consulted agreed she was certainly low IQ and clearly was
Mar 31, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2009 Nicole rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 05, 2013 Laura rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 31, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
"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
Sep 23, 2013 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoire
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
Dec 11, 2009 Christina rated it liked it
An interesting book with lots to explore. The author's mother had a handicapped sister she later disavowed and hid from everyone in her life, claiming she was raised as an only child. The book itself wasn't very satisfying because though the author researched and looked into everything, there just wasn't a lot he found out about the missing sister and he was never able to really understand why his mother hid her sister's existence. Nonfiction isn't always easy to conclude.
Jun 15, 2011 Almeta rated it it was ok
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.
May 01, 2014 Mavelyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
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.
Oct 12, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it
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............
Shannon A
Jun 22, 2014 Shannon A rated it it was amazing
"Secrets, I've discovered, have a way of working themselves free of their keepers."

One of my favorite true & local mysteries.

Steve remembers his mom always saying that she was an only child, but that changes with a single phone call in April of 1995.
Aug 10, 2015 Jacquelin rated it it was amazing
A great story and storyteller with just the right amount of supportive history mixed in. Although this isn't a typical page-turner, I couldn't put it down.
Cynthia Sillitoe
Oct 27, 2015 Cynthia Sillitoe rated it really liked it
Fascinating, but a bit overwhelming in its detail.
Oct 23, 2016 Patricia rated it really liked it
On the death of his mother, author Steve Luxenberg learns that she had a sister that he never knew about. A professional journalist, Luxenberg, decides to uncover the story of that lost sister. His journey to find Annie, and her journey as a mental patient in the 1930s and 1940s, are woven together in this remarkable book.

I liked this on so many different levels. The story of Annie herself is tragic but fascinating. What Luxenberg learns about the care of the mentally ill and the places where An
Jan 30, 2017 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-story
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 06, 2017 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely fascinating story of how Luxenburg tries to find out what happened to his mother's "secret" sister Annie - only finding out about her existence a few month's before his mother's death. More than that it explores why his mother kept her sister hidden and how a woman, as Annie was, could be committed to a mental asylum and essentially forgotten about.

I think the book also taps into a fear that you have when someone you love dies - did you really known them? Will some secret come out
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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 10 Mar 04, 2009 06:51AM  
Post #2 to my GoodReads blog 1 18 Feb 27, 2009 07:19AM  
From the author: My GoodReads blog 1 26 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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