4 out of 4 stars
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The Pennhurst State School and Hospital opened its doors in Spring City, Pennsylvania, in November of 1908. Its purpose was to care for and educate the mentally and physically disabled members of the community. However, the institution was soon pressured to also accept immigrants, criminals, and those orphans who could not be housed elsewhere. Within a few years, Pennhurst became overcrowded. Years of such overcrowding, as well as the sad cases of patient abuse, caused the doors to close in 1987.
Freeing Linhurst, written by Al Cassidy, is a Young Adult mystery novel based loosely on what happened within the walls of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, as well as the aftermath of its closing. While stories of mental institutions, haunted or otherwise, are nothing new, author Al Cassidy tells his story from the perspective of the curious children who grow up in towns shrouded in the secrets and mysteries surrounding these now vacant properties. While this easy-to-read tale is both fun and spooky, it also brings to the forefront what can happen when people allow greed and power to take control and influence their actions and decisions.
Al Cassidy’s thrilling mystery follows the adventures of high school science geek, Jack Alexander, and his best friend Celia. The two have been given writing assignments, along with the rest of their classmates, and Jack’s assignment is titled “An Adventure Through Spring Dale.” He decides that this would be an ideal time to make good on the pact he made with his mother before she passed away. They had promised each other they would uncover the secrets behind Linhurst and its sudden and mysterious closing. This project just happens to be due the same day that Linhurst is scheduled for demolishion, which is the day after Halloween.
Unfortunately, Jack and Celia seem to constantly hit brick walls in their research of Linhurst. That is, until one night at the library. In a book titled Oddities of Pennsylvania, the two find a folded sheet of paper containing a drawing of Spring Dale from 1984, and taped to the other side is an article titled “Linhurst Closes.” Luckily, before librarian Hilda Beck oddly snatches away the paper, Jack is able to snap photos of each side on his phone. If the people of Spring Dale were uncomfortable discussing the topic of Linhurst State School and Hospital before, they are even more tight-lipped now. Jack’s principal even goes as far as to have Jack’s project topic changed, and has the teacher give him a one week extension to complete it.
Jack is feeling crushed and discouraged, but is not yet ready to give up. His source of renewed energy and excitement comes from a surprising conversation with the school’s janitor, Charles Mosley. It turns out Mosley has an unexpected link to Linhurst, and can shed some light on a subject most other adults would rather avoid. Armed with this new knowledge, will Jack be able to fulfill the promise he and his mother made to each other? If so, what will this mean for his town and for the soon-to-be-demolished Linhurst? What will the adults in the community do if they discover Jack’s plan to continue his quest for answers?
Freeing Linhurst is a great mystery for young adults and preteens. It is an entertaining read with a solid pace and well developed characters. This book may help spread awareness of the problems that still exist today in the way patients with mental disabilities are sometimes treated. I feel that the author did very well in capturing the various personalities of the teenagers within the town. These brave and curious high schoolers are likable, as well as relatable. Even the supporting characters, such as Charles Mosley and Jack’s father, are drawn out nicely. The settings are vividly described. For instance, I had no problems imagining the fallen leaves coming together to form a hand motioning for Jack to stop as he was getting closer to the buildings of Linhurst. The novel’s themes range from the local politics of a small town to the unfortunate mental institution abuse, as well as paranormal themes and those related to environmental and energy issues. The illustrations in the beginings of each chapter add to the overall appeal of the book.
To be honest, I was not quite sure how I would react as an adult reading this novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised when i became instantly drawn into the story. The author really grabs the reader instantly and does not let go until the very end. I easily rate this book 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to fans of paranormal mysteries, particularly preteens and teenagers. Those curious about facilities similar to that which is described in this book, may enjoy the fresh perspective Al Cassidy provides when he tells this story from the point of view of these high school teenagers. I am even prompted to look further into the actual institution that is the basis of this captivating novel.
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