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Love In the Asylum    by Lisa Carey order for
Love In the Asylum
by Lisa Carey
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Love In the Asylum is about two patients in Maine's Abenaki Hospital. It's a swank, upper-crust rehabilitation facility where wealthy (and occasionally famous) people temporarily check themselves in to be treated for mental illnesses and addictions. Twenty-five year old Alba is a well-renowned author of young adult books. She is bipolar, suicidal, and subject to panic attacks, eating disorders and other afflictions. Alba's mother committed suicide when she was a child. Unable to live on her own, she stays with her wealthy father when she is not at Abenaki Hospital. Though devoted to her, Alba's father can be overbearing. He tends to make decisions on his daughter's behalf without consulting her.

Oscar is a thirty-year-old drug addict and alcoholic, whose parents are deceased. His brother David serves as a pseudo-parent. Though Oscar willingly takes money from David, he does not like his brother to meddle in his life. David is an extremely wealthy, successful business owner complete with a supermodel lookalike wife. He is well adjusted, happy and mature. He seems to be years older than Oscar, although Oscar is the elder. In addition to helping Oscar financially for many years, David has also extended employment opportunities to him, in feeble yet admirable attempts to help his brother get back on his feet. When Oscar hits rock bottom for what appears to be the umpteenth time, David carts him off to Abenaki Hospital for much-needed treatment.

Alba and Oscar meet one afternoon in the Abenaki Hospital grounds. Alba always sits in the same chair and chain-smokes. Oscar begins to visit her there and they strike up a cautious friendship. Alba has no female friends whatsoever, nor does she have a history of lasting relationships with men. Oscar seems to ruin anything good that ever happens to him. While Oscar is undeniably attracted to Alba, he is also frightened. And Alba's own insecurities initially hold her back from opening up to him. A bond is slowly forged between them. They grow closer and begin to lean on each other for support. Alba's discovery, in the hospital's library, of letters written by a former patient evolves into a journey that bonds them closer together.

After reading the blurb on the back of the book, it was clear what was going to happen - a man and a woman would meet at a rehabilitation hospital and share triumphs and tribulations. It sounds predictable, similar to a plotline in a garden-variety romance, with the inevitable happy ending. However, I found Love In the Asylum well written with interesting plot twists that held my interest until the very end. It was fast-paced and there were elements of suspense throughout. The rehab hospital context intrigued me and the plot that developed from the letters that Alba found became an engrossing and significant part of this unusual novel.

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