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ARC Review: Ten Days in a Madhouse (graphic novel) by Brad Ricca

Publication Date: April 19, 2022


Beautifully adapted and rendered through piercing illustrations by acclaimed creators Brad Ricca and Courtney Sieh, Nellie Bly’s complete, true-to-life 19th-century investigation of Blackwell Asylum captures a groundbreaking moment in history and reveals a haunting and timely glimpse at the starting point for conversations on mental health.

“I said I could and I would. And I did.”

While working for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper in 1887, Nellie Bly began an undercover investigation into the local Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. Intent on seeing what life was like on the inside, Bly fooled trained physicians into thinking she was insane—a task too easily achieved—and had herself committed. In her ten days at the asylum, Bly witnessed horrifying conditions: the food was inedible, the women were forced into labor for the staff, the nurses and doctors were cruel or indifferent, and many of the women held there had no mental disorder of any kind.

Now adapted into graphic novel form by Brad​ Ricca and vividly rendered with beautiful and haunting illustrations by Courtney Sieh, Bly’s bold venture is given new life and meaning. Her fearless investigation into the living conditions at the Blackwell Asylum forever changed the field of journalism. A timely reminder to take notice of forgotten populations, Ten Days in a Mad-House warns us what happens when we look away.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was an excellent adaptation of a chilling story. It covered all the main points of the story of Nelly Bly getting herself committed in order to expose the conditions inside a mental institution. The contrast of Nelly’s self-assured, composed inner voice and the illustrations of the women she was with and the conditions they faced was very powerful. I also loved how her self-confidence and self-assuredness deteriorated the longer she remained inside.

The illustrations were haunting. The black-and-white pen-strokes conveyed texture and detail and a chilling atmosphere. The way the women’s faces were rendered were also very powerful and haunting.

When I finished reading I discovered that I was tense and chilled — the story affected me quite strongly. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know about how mental institutions used to be, but also with the caveat that while the story moves along quickly and is compelling, it will stay with you.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing an e-arc for review.

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