AGamble's Reviews > The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney
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's review
Feb 27, 2009

it was ok
Read in February, 2009

I originally heard about this through the digital exhibit advertised online ( When the book showed up in Publisher's Weekly, I decided it was worth reading. Apparently my dog did, too, as he took apart most of the index and ripped off the back cover. Fortunately he left the rest of the book intact, and I was able to read it in about a day.

The stories contained in this text are heartbreaking, but the book could be better organized, as it skips about and repeats itself.

The authors are making valid points, though I can not confirm any of them as I have little experience with mental institutions. However, the photographic evidence--that which compelled me to read the book in the first place--especially the then-and-now style photographs of the patients, show the abuses inherent in a system that resigns people to such a fate as the owners of the suitcases found at Willard.

All in all, the book was not quite what I expected, and it desperately needs editing, but it is heart-wrenching and mind-boggling nonetheless.


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