Off the Shelf: A Review of Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Curie


“The house I was working in was filled with crazy people, and everyone in Fall River knew it…including me.”

Funny that I just said in my review of Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin that I’d always considered myself not such a fan of alternate history/historical fiction, and here I am reading yet another young adult historical fiction novel so soon.

I don’t know what drew me to Sweet Madness. I’ve always thought the Lizzie Borden murders were an interesting mystery, and sure, I’d watch a documentary or two about it if it was on… But I wouldn’t say that I’d go out of my way to learn more about Lizzie and her family. So, picking this book out of the many new arrivals at the library to start reading at lunch made me surprise myself. This somewhat long description from Goodreads did peak my interest though and is worth the read:

“Seventeen-year-old Bridget Sullivan is alone in Fall River, a city that sees Irish immigrants as nothing more than a drunken drain on society. To make matters worse, she’s taken employment with the city’s most peculiar and gossip-laden family—the Bordens. But Bridget can’t afford to be picky—the pay surpasses any other job Bridget could ever secure and she desperately needs the money to buy her little sister, Cara, passage to the states. It doesn’t hurt that the job location is also close to her beau, Liam. As she enters the disturbing inner workings of the Borden household, Bridget clings to these advantages. However, what seemed like a straightforward situation soon turns into one that is untenable. Of course Bridget has heard the gossip around town about the Bordens, but what she encounters is far more unsettling. The erratic, paranoid behavior of Mr. Borden, the fearful silence of his wife, and worse still…the nightly whisperings Bridget hears that seem to come from the walls themselves. The unexpected bright spot of the position is that Lizzie Borden is so friendly. At first, Bridget is surprised at how Lizzie seems to look out for her, how she takes a strong interest in Bridget’s life. Over time, a friendship grows between them. But when Mr. Borden’s behavior goes from paranoid to cruel, and the eerie occurrences in the house seem to be building momentum, Bridget makes the tough decision that she must leave the house—even if it means leaving behind Lizzie, her closest friend, alone with the madness. Something she swore she would not do. But when Bridget makes a horrifying discovery in the home, all that she thought she knew about the Bordens is called into question…including if Lizzie is dangerous. And the choice she must make about Lizzie’s character could mean Bridget’s life or death. SWEET MADNESS is a retelling of the infamous Borden murders from the point of view of Lizzie’s Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan.”

Have you ever had someone take an unnatural interest in your life to the point it made you uncomfortable? The skin still prickles on the back of my neck when I think of my personal experience with that, and I had that same feeling for the main character Bridget as Lizzie’s true colors started to show. Normally, I don’t like historical fiction because playing around with actual people as characters seems almost intrusive. No one actually knows what happened at the Borden home when Andrew Borden and his wife were murdered, but it’s clear that the authors have done a fair amount of research to set the scene and make their theory of how it all went down plausible.


Bridget!…and Lizzie, surprisingly. I enjoyed that the story was told from Bridget’s POV, which helped to keep the atmosphere of what she was experiencing in the Borden household very mysterious. Bridget is also easy to identify with. She feels an obligation to Lizzie out of friendship and sympathy mostly because she sees her own sister in Lizzie. She’s also struggling to make enough money to buy a home with Liam and save enough for passage to go retrieve her sister so that she may live with them, so her decision to stay or leave the Bordens gets influenced by that. We, the readers, feel for her, but we also want to scream out to her like it’s a scary movie, “Don’t open that door!” Lizzie is presented as a girl who is abundantly odd, and everyone knows it. If you know anything at all about the Borden murders and the suspicions surrounding Lizzie before you pick this book up, you will most likely immediately want to vilify her. While her behavior detailed in the book is generally suspicious, the authors also present her as a girl living with a mentally abusive father who stripped her of any chance at a normal life. Yes, the aftermath of Andrew Borden’s heinous attack on Lizzie’s pet pigeons is described in cringe-worthy details within these pages, and it’s definitely one scene that will make you want to take a hatchet to him yourself.


The end. We all know what this book is leading up to… the murders and how they happened. So, this should be the most exciting part of the book, right? Well, it was more on the level of “mehhh” for me. I won’t spoil it. It does present an interesting and somewhat believable scenario for who killed the Bordens and why, BUT it doesn’t really fit with what we know as fact about the investigations and what was presented at the trial. Also, it was pretty much over and done in quite a rush. It just didn’t seem like a very solid way to end the book. Sure, it flashes forward to Bridget’s future life as she recalls what happened after the murders, but it comes off like an all too neatly wrapped up happy ending. Should a book like this REALLY have a happy ending?

Overall Rating:
I was stuck somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 on this one, as most of the book I was thoroughly intrigued. It kept my attention, and I enjoyed the way the events unfolded…with the exception to that being the disappointing end. Some will probably enjoy the ending far more than I did, so with that in mind, I say that I would still highly recommend this to anyone with even the slightest interest in the Borden murder mysteries or creepy YA novels in general.

Add Sweet Madness to your To-Read Shelf on Goodreads
Order Sweet Madness from Amazon
Order Sweet Madness from Barnes and Noble


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