Book Review - ANNIE'S GHOSTS: A Journey Into A Family Secret

ANNIE’s GHOSTS: A Journey Into A Family Secret

By Steve Luxenberg

New York: Hyperion, 2012. 401 pp. Photographs, notes, bibliography, and index. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4013-2247-2.

Reviewed for Disability Network Lakeshore by Neva Kathryn Baron, nkbaron75@gmail.com, nkbaron.wordpress.com.

Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into A Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg is a great read. The book is a detective story, memoir, and focuses on Michigan’s history of housing people that were placed into the state hospital mental health system from the 1920s through the early 1970s. Thoroughly written from an investigative viewpoint the text dives into many topics including: family relationships, family secrets, and how cultural stigma, and being poor can dramatically influence and changed the course of a person’s life.

Luxenberg learns that his mother had a younger sister named Annie who was placed in institutional care one day short of her twenty-first birthday. Beth, the author’s mother, had kept Annie’s existence a secret. Luxenberg never knew about his aunt. After his mother passes away he eventually takes time away from his position at the Washington Post to learn all that he can through searching for and gaining access to existing medical records and any information that still exists about her. With the support of his siblings, he consults with mental health professionals, historians, and lawyers.  Also, He tracks down and interviews old family friends and neighborhood acquaintances.  In so doing, he is able explore and to place into context the how and why of Annie’s placement into Eloise Hospital in western Wayne County.

Last year, the Michigan Humanities Council chose Annie’s Ghosts as the Great Michigan Read title for 2013-2014. “This book was well received around the state – we worked directly with 300 partnering organizations, reaching more than 100,000 in discussion. It was one of the most successful discussions we’ve had yet for this program,” Kate Bartig, Communications Officer, shared with me recently via an email correspondence.

Both a reader’s guide and teacher’s guide is available to supplement the book. “The reader’s guide includes some brief book information, but provides more historical information on the topics covered in Annie’s Ghosts, such as mental health care and genealogy,” Bartig said. Those materials can be found here: http://michiganhumanities.org/programs/tgmr/previous.php.

 The author’s website is here: http://steveluxenberg.com