In 1922, on the heels of WWI and social revolution, 18-year-old Dylan Penn stands at the window of the Northampton Insane Asylum, dreading the days to her 19th birthday—the day she’ll get sent to the second floor. The last girl who got sent up only made it 10 days before they buried her in the boneyard. Dylan shivers at the site of her grave.
Moments later, Glory May crashes into their lives: a teenage Ukrainian immigrant-turned-Ringling Brothers circus performer, marked by savage scars on her back. Glory believes she’s a fallen angel, sent to earn redemption by saving the lives of the misfits on their ward, even though she knows it will cost her own. She concocts a dubious escape plan based on the legend of the Holy Grail, but nobody believes her story. Not Spencer, the fiercely protective psychiatry apprentice inexorably drawn to her, and certainly not the good doctor Crouch, a pernicious man with archaic methods.
The girls become enchanted by Glory’s wild tales while the doctor’s anger toward her becomes deeply personal. But nothing at Northampton is ever what it seems. Strange things begin to occur as a far more insidious threat breaches the threshold of their cloistered world. A serial killer escapes from his cell, a deadly winter storm approaches, a one-eyed ghost haunts their ward, and whispers of radical experimentation rise.
So, in a town built on the blood of abolitionists and suffragettes, five girls fight for their freedom and their lives underneath the doctor’s menacing eye. They struggle with their demons—internal and in the flesh—threatened with lobotomy, electric shocks, the water cure. It seems that hope itself may be drowning in their cage. But as the old asylum crumbles, unlikely heroes emerge, advancing the legacy of their storied town.
Two decades later, Dylan Penn recounts what happened that year. The girls’ surprising histories spring to life through Dylan’s own words, photos, documents and drawings, but none as shocking as Glory May’s. For even as she rushes toward her fateful, calamitous end, the truth about her remains elusive: Is Glory May a fallen angel—wings ripped from her back—or is she just a lonely girl, struggling to survive a traumatic past? And the bone-crushing feeling that she doesn’t deserve to live.