cover image The Foundling

The Foundling

Ann Leary. Scribner/Marysue Rucci, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-982120-38-2

Leary’s gripping latest (after The Children) chronicles a naïve young woman’s role in a eugenics program at a Pennsylvania asylum in 1927. Mary Engle grows up in an orphanage and, at 18, gets her first job as secretary to Agnes Vogel, head of the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age, where women are imprisoned for reasons including prostitution, same sex or biracial relationships, drinking, or having children while unwed. These “unfit” women are forced to perform unpaid farm labor until they are past childbearing age, at which point they are released. Mary is in awe of the accomplished Vogel until she recognizes new inmate Lillian, who was a close friend at the orphanage and was sent to Nettleton for having a child out of wedlock with a Black musician. Lillian begs Mary to help get her out, but Mary initially remains loyal to Vogel. Meanwhile, Mary falls in love with a journalist who tells her that Vogel and the institution are corrupt. As she learns about Vogel’s cover-ups of black market liquor dealings and the sexual assault on an inmate, she realizes neither Vogel nor Nettleton are what they claim to be. Leary makes an engrossing drama out of Mary’s shifting allegiance, and this ends with an impressive twist. Readers will rip through this tale of historical injustice. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME. (May)