Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

By Ekta R. Garg

October 7, 2015

Rated: Borrow it

A young Irish maid accepts employment in a new home for higher pay and to be closer to her sweetheart. Her new employers, however, bear a reputation of legendary proportions. When tragedy strikes the family, the maid must decide whether she will stay in town or take the opportunity in the ensuing chaos to slip away. Co-authors Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie give YA readers a new way to think about the infamous Lizzie Borden story in their new book Sweet Madness.

In the late 1800s Bridget Sullivan comes to Fall River, Massachusetts, to pursue her small piece of the American dream. Bridget wants to earn enough money to bring her sister to the U.S. When she meets Liam, Bridget builds on her dream. She and Liam want to earn enough to get married and start their own family.

Bridget hears about the opportunity to join the Borden household as a maid for higher pay than her current position, and she knows in theory the move would be good for her. The Bordens live in town, which is much closer to Liam. She can earn more money and spend more time with the man she loves.

In practice, however, Bridget doesn’t know whether this is the right position for her. The Bordens have a reputation of instability. Everyone knows Andrew Borden, head of the family, pinches pennies so tight they’re burning between his fingers. His second wife, Abigail, floats through the house like a ghost, unable to make a connection with her stepdaughters. Elder daughter Emma has all but renounced her relationship with the family; she spends more time visiting friends than she does at home. Younger daughter Lizzie lives in the house, and Bridget soon finds herself in the position of being Lizzie’s only friend.

Friendship with Lizzie, however, is not without its complications. Some days Lizzie acts perfectly normal, even volunteering to help Bridget with chores and chatting about mundane topics. On other days, Lizzie lashes out at everyone and her mind doesn’t seem sound. Given Mr. Borden’s harshness, Bridget isn’t surprised that Lizzie’s behavior bounces from mood to mood like a ping pong ball.

Lizzie isn’t the only one whose behavior doesn’t make sense, though, and Bridget realizes the Borden family keeps all sorts of secrets—from the town and one another. When Bridget finds Abigail Borden dead one morning, brutally murdered by an axe, she and Lizzie barely have a chance to get over their horror before they tell Mr. Borden. Secrets come crawling out of the woodwork like termites, and the tragedy grows bigger. In the days that follow Bridget agonizes over staying with Lizzie to offer her support. No matter what decision she makes, though, she knows she’ll never be the same after experiencing life with the Bordens.

The tragedy of Lizzie Borden and her family has permeated American culture since the time the murders occurred in 1892. The fact that the crime remains officially unsolved only adds to its intrigue. Conventional opinions place the blame on Lizzie, although through the years historians and curiosity seekers alike have debated whether someone else might have played a part in the crime.

Authors Leaver and Currie take a route more sympathetic toward Lizzie and, using Bridget as the point of view character throughout the entire story, offer their opinion on who might have been responsible for the Borden family tragedy. The story works, to a point. For those familiar with the circumstances, a sense of impending doom hangs over every single page. This coupled with a slightly repetitive storytelling style may make readers impatient with the pacing of the book. They may want it to just get on with the grisly details.

Unfortunately Lizzie Borden’s story after the crime remains shrouded in uncertainty. Despite the unfavorable attitude of the town residents, Lizzie continued to live in Fall River until her death. She remained single, and for a while she became estranged from her older sister. Mishandling of the crime scene and conflicting testimony of key witnesses made it impossible to determine the truth of it all. More than a hundred years later, the mystery remains.

For those completely unfamiliar with the Lizzie Borden story, this book may offer readers a fair introduction to the entire affair. I recommend readers Borrow Sweet Madness.