Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker
2/20/24; 384 pages
HarperCollins/Mariner Books

The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson by Ellen Baker is a highly recommended family drama concerning families, adoption, and ancestry. The narrative begins in 1924 and ends with a climatic conclusion in 2015.

At age four Cecily Larson is dropped off at an orphanage by her mother in 1924. Her mother promises to return within a year, but she doesn't which allows the orphanage to put Cecily up for adoption. When she is seven she is sold to a traveling circus to be trained as a trick bareback rider. She is renamed Jacqueline DuMonde and billed as the “little sister” to the star bareback rider Isabelle DuMonde.This life becomes her home and she eventually falls in love with a roustabout named Lucky.

In 2015, ninety-four-year-old Cecily is living in Minnesota by her daughter Liz, granddaughter Molly and great grandson Caden. Cecily is hospitalized after she fell and broke her hip. Cecily realizes that secrets she has been keeping need to be shared soon. Liz is keeping her own secret from everyone, as well as the fact that she and Molly tricked Cecily into taking DNA test in the hospital for Caden's biology project on DNA testing. At the same time in 2015 in Florida and North Carolina another mother, Clarissa, and her adult daughters, Kate and Lana, are wondering about their heritage and take a DNA test.

The novel is presented in three parts. The first part of the novel is very satisfying and compelling as it follows Cecily in the circus, later in 1946, and her family in 2015. Part two introduces Lucky and the other mother and daughters plot. It is this addition to the story where I lost much of my captivation with the The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson. Certainly most readers will sort out all the new characters, but it is the dueling story lines that became unwieldy making the narrative feel muddled in the middle of the novel. Some of the sub-plots could have been left out and the introduction of the second family could have been smoother. 

The gem remains the chapters set in Cecily's past and everything that she experienced. 

Obviously, readers will know something is going to tie all these people together. It is clear Cecily's hidden secrets will be revealed and readers will anticipate that the DNA tests will tell all. It is this one fact that will help many readers jump the hurdle once the secondary cast is introduced and all the new characters are sorted out. In the end story lines are tied up neatly and quickly. Thanks to Mariner Books for providing me with an advance reader's copy via Edelweiss. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

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