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The Illness Lesson

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  148 ratings  ·  56 reviews
A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.

One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms:
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 6th 2020 by Doubleday
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Katherine Elizabeth
As this book is not coming out for quite some time, I won’t reveal much about the plot or characters for those of you who are anticipating this novels release in February, 2020!

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this before its publication.

Now, as the 2-star rating on Goodreads dictates, this book was “OK.”

The Illness Lesson is definitely an odd read, that I will say. I won’t uncover more on that, as I feel half of its oddness is what makes the book what it is.
The Illness Lesson takes place at a progressive 19th century school for young ladies, where the students begin to show signs of a mysterious affliction. Are the girls faking? Is it a psychosomatic contagion? Or are they really sick? And what’s up with the creepy red birds appearing on the grounds like freaky little harbingers?

As a piece of historical fiction, this was well-written with a compelling premise and almost-gothic setting. For the first half I was enjoying this and really quite
Amalia Gavea
‘’This is a place of marvels.’’

Unfortunately, this novel was anything but a marvel to me…

Set in the USA during the 1870s, this is the story of a daughter and a father who wanted to change the perception of what education actually meant for young women, aspiring to provide the -privileged- young ladies with spiritual talents, breaking the norms of traditional teaching. When the first students arrive at this peculiar school, things go awry very quickly. The daughter of a deceased writer who had
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
Ashwell, Massachusetts, 1871. In a time where women are raised to become wives and mothers, Samuel Hood, his friend David and his daughter Caroline decide to start a school for girls, teaching them to be critical thinkers. At the same time a population of tiny red birds, Trilling Hearts, flock the area.
The girls are perfect students, soaking up knowledge, while the birds continue to show up in the most unexpected ways.
All is well until one of the girls starts having falling fits. Pretty soon all
Jessica Woodbury
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. If you are going to write a book where girls with symptoms of hysteria is the primary plot point, I am going to demand you have a good reason for it. It's been done a lot and it's often nothing more than a convenient device to liven up a plot. Here, Beams uses it to strong effect, to illustrate the way even people who fight for the liberation of girls and women still do not treat them as fully human.

Caroline is the isolated but well-educated daughter of a prominent thinker who once
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, netgalley
The Illness Lesson is an odd duck of a book, which I mean as an observation, not a criticism. In terms of genre, I would label it historical fiction, but it also feels strikingly contemporary in ways that don't undermine the historical setting. The Illness Lesson does many things at once, most of them quite well: it explores female identity in a world dominated by men and the limitations placed on even the lives of women deemed exceptional; it opens up the transcendentalist movement in ways that ...more
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Illness Lesson is a quiet, unassuming lesson on women and how society shapes and perceives them. The prose was beautiful and vivid, evoking imagery and universal themes. It’s a quick read, drawing you into a specific world both entirely grounded in our reality but also seemingly so far away from the world we live in. Set in the 19th century, this book asks the question of what a progressive woman might look like in that time and what roadblocks she might encounter. While not at the center of ...more
Heather Fineisen
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it
A small group of girls at a newly formed school come down with symptoms of an unknown origin. Examines females interacting with one another and the history of hysteria. This is a slow paced novel which raises the ethics of medical molestation and its effect on young women. The characters are well drawn although not readily likable. The subject matter is uncomfortable. Then there are the birds...a solid read.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
This cover!! Wow!
Holly M Wendt
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Smart, atmospheric, and absolutely gripping.

Csimplot Simplot
Excellent book!!!
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
The Illness Lesson tries to be a lot of things – a book about women and the ways we have been suppressed by men; a story about school, and how women are often discouraged from thinking and questioning; a look at hysteria and one of the bizarre treatments men employed; an exploration of the connection between body and mind and how the fear of inheriting a disease can alter perceptions as well as personalities; a comment on education; an exploration of relationships between parents and children ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“We were, I think, making girls for a world that does not exist.”

I found this book to be powerful and moving, despite its flaws. A fictionalized Amos Bronson Alcott figure, as selfish and inept as the real one, opens a school for girls with his daughter in Reconstruction America. Strange and unsettling things happen to the girls. Things that are still happening 150 years later.

My main criticism of this book is that the girls are thinly-drawn and mere passengers in their own narrative.. An
Aug 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
With the shadows and ghosts of the Alcotts and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women in particular populating its pages, this novel captures a brief span in a young woman's life during which her father, having been part of a failed self-sufficient utopia, decides to open a school. Recruiting a handful of girls for an experimental education, Caroline, her father Samuel, and teacher David embark on an adventure that turns sour as David's pious wife arrives, spoiling Caroline's hopes for a romance with ...more
Nicki Markus
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-historical
The Illness Lesson was a captivating read. The prose was a delight, and its style added to the sense of historical period. The story posed many questions, such as the connection between body and mind and the rights of women over their own bodies. Meanwhile, the arrival of the birds and the part they played created an interesting metaphor. I found myself caught up in the world and the action, always eager to turn the page to see how things would progress. Overall this was both a gripping and a ...more
In a small town in 19th century Massachusetts, a mysterious flock of red birds descends. At the same time, Samuel Hood, a prominent intellectual, has started a school for girls along with his daughter Caroline, and a follower named David. Samuel seeks to educate girls the same way boys have been educated- teaching them English literature, mathematics, classical languages, and to think critically, in a time where girls schools traditionally focused on needlepoint, music, how to become wives and ...more
Feb 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Clare Beams’ debut novel, The Illness Lesson, is set in Massachusetts in 1871 and is narrated in the third person by Caroline, an unmarried woman in her late twenties who still lives with her father, Samuel, and feels stifled by the narrowness of her life; as she reflects when lying in bed ‘where she lay in the same darkness that had covered her at twenty-four, eighteen, twelve, eight, the walls and ceiling of her room like a box that fit her’. Caroline’s world promises to change when Samuel ...more
Dan Bassett
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a real stand out gem for me in such an unexpected way....
Caroline lives with her father, a man of some social standing but as of late seems to be waning in his position in the community.
One day a flock of birds appear on their land, 'Trilling Hearts' as Caroline's father names them, beautiful red birds that have not been seen in these parts for years!As a result of these sightings he is convinced this is a sign that he should open an all-girls school but not like any that has come
This is such a strange and interesting historical fiction, that I had trouble putting down. It's about the first year of an all-girls school in the 1870s. The aim of the school is to treat the teenage girl pupils exactly like their male counterparts in their education. The protagonist is the daughter of the school's founder, who teaches English literature. When the girls all start coming down with the same illness, the founder hires a doctor who diagnoses them with hysteria, and his treatment is ...more
Doris Raines
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ginger Pollard
This book starts out good, but it gets very odd. It goes in so many different directions, it made me dizzy! Truth! This is one of those books that people will love completely or really dislike.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. Thank you,Netgalley.
All opinions are my own.
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways-wins
I won this book in a giveaway, but that has not influenced my review in any way.

I was very excited to receive this book. The premise seemed unique and intriguing. The way this book is written and the symbolism used throughout makes this one of the more unique books I've read this year. I really enjoy a story that doesn't give everything to the reader and requires a bit of thought and problem solving. Illness Lessons had me thinking about it even when I wasn't actively reading it. That's a sign
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A strange and novel read which has gripped me tightly.

Caroline Hood lives with her father Samuel, a philosopher and essayist, who decides to set up a school for young ladies – soon the Trilling Heart school is open with a small number of live-in scholars. Most notable among them Eliza Pearson Bell, daughter of Miles Pearson, one time associate of Samuel Bell, but now much maligned by him.

The trilling hearts of the school’s name are rare birds, not seen for decades, but currently populating the
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing

This debut novel’s synopsis grabbed me from the start, with its promise of 19th Century gothic contrasted with ‘a modern scream of female outrage’. There is a lot about illness, medicine and it’s treatment of women that still provokes rage in me, so I had something to connect with from the start. I wasn’t disappointed by Beam’s novel and feel the need to buy a beautiful hardback copy for my collection, as this is a book I’ll want to read again.

Living in New England, Caroline Hood is a woman in
My thanks to Random House U.K. Transworld Publishers for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Illness Lesson’ by Clare Beams in exchange for an honest review.

In 1871 Massachusetts, Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, are surprised when a flock of mysterious red birds descend on their farm, Birch Hill. These unusual birds had been named the Trilling Hearts by Caroline’s late mother some twenty-five years previously when they first appeared. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher is waning, takes their
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's 1871 in Ashwell, Massachusetts and Samuel Hood decides to convert his barn into a progressive school for young girls. He's planning to teach the students himself together with his daughter, Caroline, and friend, David Moore.

Eliza Pearson Bell is one of the girls who express interest in becoming a student. Coincidentally, she is also the daughter of Miles Pearson - the man Samuel loathes the most. Caroline and David decide Eliza will bring good publicity to the school but for very different
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
The Illness Lesson is set in the confines of a progressive nineteenth century school for young ladies, run by academic Samuel Hood, his daughter Caroline, and young colleague David. The aim of the school is to teach the girls as boys would be taught, veering away from the traditional etiquette lessons and embroidery techniques and towards critical thinking, literature, and science.

When one of the girls, Eliza Bell, begins to suffer mysterious fainting fits and develop unidentifiable rashes, the
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am not quite sure how this title first caught my attention, but I really enjoyed it! Beams is quite a talented writer! There's a lot crammed into this relatively short novel (under 300 pages). It's tightly written, fascinating and has quite the mounting sense of dread as the novel progresses. Set in 1871 in Ashwell, Massachusetts, the book feels authentically researched and though the girls' school, The Trilling Heart School, is progressive, it still seems to accurately reflect the era.

Jay bookworm
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: won, 1-own-it
Thanks to DoubleDay and Goodreads for the advance galley copy of the book. Atmospheric is the best description I can think of for this tale about the launching of a girls school in the late 1800s. It is told from the perspective of Caroline, the daughter of philosopher turned schoolmaster, Samuel Hood. Caroline has spent her life without her mother, who died when she was very young, trying to look out for her father. His dream is to launch this school which would teach girls in much the same way ...more
Kayla Mckinney
Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for this ARC!

In The Illness Lessons, Clare Beams crafts a cast of characters who must struggle with the question of how women can "find productive ways of living in the world as it is." Set in the nineteenth century, the book's question and the many issues that beset the women in its pages are still very much with us.

The Illness Lessons takes place at a school that seeks to educate women in more than sewing and etiquette. The events of the novel coincide
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“He was a physician, only an amateur naturalist, but the sort of man who never considered himself an amateur at anything. They all were.” 0 likes
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