The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale
The Mad Girls of New York: A Nellie Bly Novel Book Cover The Mad Girls of New York: A Nellie Bly Novel
Maya Rodale
Biographical Historical Fiction, Gilded Age Fiction, Young Adult, New Adult, Women's Fiction
April 26, 2022
Kindle, Audiobook, Paperback

In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she'd be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum for Women.

For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It's an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.

Anything that ailed women was diagnosed as hysteria, a condition in which the womb wandered aimlessly around the body causing trouble.”

The Mad Girls of New York is Maya Rodale’s compelling interpretation of the events that catapulted Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, into the male dominated world of 19th Century New York journalism. In her quest to be taken seriously as a journalist Nellie and the renowned editor of the New York World contrive to have her committed to the notorious Blackwell Island Insane Asylum for Women. Her brash and risky stunt earns her a hard sought after story that exposed the horrors and brutality, that was worse than expected, of this secretive and notorious place.

Rodale’s Nellie is a vibrant, daring, and unstoppable character that brings to light the amazing trailblazer that was the real Nellie Bly. Her tenacity and spirit in the face of so many societal oppressions and what she endure in the asylum shine a light on what a truly amazing woman she was. While her own words and history attest to that fact, this fictional account showcases a humor and caring that brings an intimate glimpse of a women that was a head of her time and a pioneer for all women. I am definitely motivated to read more factual accounts of Nellie’s life and the reporting she did on Blackwell Island after reading Rodale’s The Mad Girls of New York.

The sights and activities of New York in the Gilded Age are an vibrant but contrasting backdrop to the restricted and limited lives women had in that era. The Mad Girls of New York, is a fascinating story that hooked me from the very first chapter not only because of the setting but the way it is told through the perspective of both Nellie and other supporting characters. The various viewpoints got me thinking about the lives of women before me and appreciate the advances that these women struggled for but never got to see in their lifetimes. As a side note, Rodale’s Nellie is hilarious, spunky, and a woman I would have loved to have known. I highly recommend The Mad Girls of New York! It’s not just a fascinating interpretation of the life of Nellie Bly but morally profound story that will leave you with many things to contemplate.