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The Degenerates

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  476 ratings  ·  147 reviews
In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life.

The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certai
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 17th 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Sarah Perchikoff
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
THIS. BOOK. I knew going in that The Degenerates was going to hurt. Four girls stuck in a “school” in the early 1900s where they’re labeled based on the ways they don’t fit society’s standard of what’s “normal.” My heart! I know enough about asylums during this time period to know things were not going to be any better in this situation.

(The book is compared to Girl, Interrupted, but I also saw bits of The Bell Jar in it too.)

But as bad as things get (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the bond
Amy Layton
This was fantastic, spit-fire, tough and tumble, rough and rumble.  When four teenagers meet at the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, they find commonalities in the fact that they don't so much need taking care of or help, but that they simply do not fit in.  Their families don't visit them, they try to run away, they slog through repetitive classes and lessons designed by teachers who couldn't care less.  But once they realize that they're in it together, they begin to make plans to l ...more
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this arc, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I’ll post that review upon publication in March.

UPDATED on 3/22/20:

Four stars

When historical fiction is done well, it transports readers into the personal experiences of individuals who live in a time that seems present - rather than long ago - and into a set of circumstances that seems, by modern day standards, nearly unimaginable. That's exactly what happens in this work.

Mann's narrative hi
Lost in Book Land
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I feel like I have been flying through books lately. My Goodreads currently-reading shelf is full like always but this time many of them are set as like almost completed (that's the system I have for when they are done, I set them at just a few pages short of complete until I write the review). There may be a better system but I currently like mine. One of the books I finished recently that is still waiting for me to review is the Degenerates. This book does not come out for a bit but I was supe ...more
By Book and Bone
Jun 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
This book put me through the ringer. It's absolutely fantastic and made me tear up at several points.
Knowing that 215 children's bodies were found at a Canadian Indigenous residential school and 796 children were found buried in a septic tank at a Mother and Baby home in Tuam (Ireland)... not to mention asylums and the 'schools' in Australia, The Degenerates hit hard.

Set in a time where young girls can be incarcerated and labelled 'morons' or 'imbeciles' for the crime of being pregnant, in the w
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
J. Albert Mann’s talent is making history come alive in such a personal way that you feel you are the main character living in this time in history. This time Mann lets the reader live through four young women living in a Massachusetts mental institution in the early 1900s.

London is locked up for being “morally feeble-minded” aka pregnant out of wedlock, Maxine is a “moron”, Alice is a “moron” and has a clubfoot, and Rose has Down’s Syndrome. Mann uses all four points of view to tell the story
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Mann's earlier work, What Every Girl Should Know, about the life of Margaret Sanger, so I was looking forward to getting my hands on The Degenerates. It didn't disappoint! The author has a gift for tackling difficult subjects and making them very personal and accessible. ...more
Soup Mancer
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the best YA I've read in a while. It's such a good, well-researched historical fiction with excellent prose. This is a book where every word has meaning. There are excellent themes and absolutely stellar characters. ...more
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
You can find this review and others on my blog SleepySamReads!

Special thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book took my breath away. It was gorgeous and heartbreaking. I honestly loved all four of the main characters so much, which is unusual. When there’s so many POVs one or two are bound to be unfavorable, but I honestly loved reading all of theirs.

Alice is a young black girl who was abandoned at The Massachusetts School for th
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I want to call this a "delightful," read because after the abysmal disappointment of the last book I tried to read, this one gave me just about everything that I could have asked for. However, given the topic- the forcible incarceration of girls at a school for the "feeble-minded," during the 1920s- "delightful," is probably not the right adjective. That said, it was so nice to read something that not only shined a spotlight on girls and women, but was pretty thoroughly inclusive (there are char ...more
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A horrifying and heartbreaking exploration of what life was like for the girls locked up in institutions in the twentieth century in an unforgettable story of friendship, found-family, and survival against all odds.

Four girls' lives intertwine at an institution for the "feebleminded," where each of them has been received a life sentence with no hope of escape. Sisters Maxine and Rose--sent away because of Maxine's sexuality and Rose's Down Syndrome--their friend Alice, and new girl London strug
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-of-2020, arc
This book could make a case for blindly picking completely random titles on Netgalley. Because that's what I did and man am I impressed with this book.

Some of the language seems a tad out of place - "sucks" sounds more modern, for example - and a few metaphors are a little clunky. Other than that, the writing is quite lovely. Simple, yet evocative. The topics tackled lends themselves to strong emotional reactions, but Mann deftly plays with those emotions and makes the story visceral. And the ch
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Degenerates was a very heartbreaking and disturbing historical fiction. It was disturbing mainly because of what the young girls were subjected to by doctors and staff at the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. This story was based on facts and intensive research. Years ago, children were placed in these institutions for life, simply because they were classified as imbeciles, morons, idiots, undesirables, or degenerates. The story centered on the lives of four teenage girls. Each had ...more
Paige Green
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher! Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: The Degenerates

Author: J. Albert Mann

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 4/5

Diversity: Slight LGBTQA+ relationship (makeout scene) and based on the covers one of the girls is black and the other might be Asian, but it wasn’t well described in the book.

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Recommended Age: 16+ (TW torture, violence, gore, some language, and

Pages: March 17, 2020

Amazon Link

Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
this was so sad but so hopeful at the same time. you could really feel how trapped the girls were and it made for an emotional read. i read it in one sitting until 3am, which goes to show how hard it was to put it down.
London couldn't stop thinking about the girl in the iron lung.

In 1928, four girls find themselves at the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded. London is pregnant and 14, so she is dragged out of the best foster home situation she has had in her life to the school. Alice was born with a clubfoot and was left at the school by her brother. Rose has Down's Syndrome and was sent to the school by her mother. Her sister, Maxine, is also at the school and will do all she can to protect Rose, t
Taylor (TaysInfiniteThoughts)
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an eye-opening, and heart-breaking book. Based on real women, The Degenerates is about four women who are considered 'morons' or 'feebleminded' and are therefore made to stay in this school for the rest of their lives. Alice is there because she has a club foot, Maxine is there because she was caught kissing girls, and Maxine's sister Rose is there because she has down syndrome. London joins them after being taken from the home she was living in after becoming pregnant without being mar ...more
I quite enjoyed this book, I don’t know how much was real but I suspect quite a lot. The main characters are all in an institution for the feeble minded for varying things, such as Down Syndrome, homosexuality, and being pregnant before marriage. It was very interesting to see how many things were considered traits of morons (the official diagnoses of the feeble minded) that have easy explanations or aren’t problems at all. I would have liked for there to have been a little bit more action. The ...more
Carolyn O'Neil
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A powerful, upsetting, and realistic account of life in the early 20th century. Any girl who didn't fit the mold of what a good American girl was "supposed" to be -- white, straight, able-bodied, moneyed -- lived at risk of being thrown into an institution if they crossed the wrong person. The heroines of this novel will break your heart. They all have dreams, talents, love, and yearnings, but the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded does its best to grind those things out of them.

And rea
Rep: queer black disabled main character (Alice), character with Down's Syndrome (Rose), queer character (Maxine), non-white minority (for that time) character (London)
Warnings: ableism and patient abuse, police brutality, depiction of self-harm and mentions of suicidal ideation, miscarriage and infant death, homophobia

When I started this book, I did not know how much I would come to love these characters and their stories. About four girls institutionalized and considered feeble-minded by the '
Trigger warning for outdated (but relevant) discrimination and mistreatment of the differently abled, people of color, and lgbtq+ members of society. Also teen pregnancy and graphic miscarriage descriptions.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this Advanced Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I gave this a 2.5, but for Netgalley and Goodreads purposes I did round up to a 3 because I understood why people enjoyed this book and what the author was attempting to do. Tough stories have to
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing

I started THE DEGENERATES before bed and barely slept. I could not put it down. Not only did J. Mann pull me into the seemingly hopeless lives of London, Maxine, Rose and Alice, but she had me rooting for them throughout the story to the very satisfying end. Each character’s unique voice and circumstances made me empathize fully – though particularly with London, who’s a fighter and a leader.

Two things stood out for me as I read. First, despite this story taking place roughly a hundred years ag
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
J. Albert Mann has created a beautiful testament to friendship and courage in the latest of her historic fictions. The characters are brilliantly varied and emotionally poignant. And their search for love and freedom is a tale that was aching to be told.
Cate Berry
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
J. Albert Mann delivers historical fiction with passion and clarity like no other. A story of deep friendship, that’s deeply funny and complex. A must read.
Alice Carpenter
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was lucky enough to get a copy of the ARC to read before publication. Wow! You can count on J. Albert Mann to take on tough subjects and handle them with thought and care. Amazing writer!
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Got an arc of The Degenerates and cannot recommend it more! A celebration of those who dare to be different. Empowering YA!
“You have been deemed unfit. This isn’t prison. There is no parole. You just live here now, like me … like them.”

In the roaring 20s, it's hard to be a girl, especially so if you're an immigrant, Black, queer or disabled. Make one wrong move and you might just end up at the Massachusetts School for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Youth. Like London, who got pregnant. Or Alice, whose sister-in-law couldn't abide her clubfoot. Or Maxine, who kissed a girl. Or Rose, who was born with Down's Syndrome.
Mar 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Firstly, I just want to say thank you to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for sending me an e-arc of this book as part of the blog tour. I really appreciate this opportunity. 

The Degenerates was a good read, I can't say I enjoyed it as it just doesn't seem right. At times I found it heart-breaking and very difficult to comprehend. Therefore "enjoyment" doesn't quite describe exactly how I felt about this book. But that is not a bad thing. It just means that the story line hit me in the right place
Shannon (It Starts At Midnight)
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight


Girls. Inmates. Idiots. Imbeciles. Morons. Undesirable. Feebleminded. All interchangeable. All degenerates.

This book will absolutely break your heart, but it will also give you hope and inspiration at the strength of human spirit. Back in the day (this is set in the 1920s), anyone who was different (in really any way, but in this book, we are dealing mostly with developmental
Emma L Falkner
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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J. Albert Mann is a disability activist, an award-winning poet and the author of eight published novels for children. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults and is the Partner Liaison for the WNDB Internship Grant Committee. She lives on a little fishing boat in the Boston Harbor with her first mate, Marcella, a ginger tabby.

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