Customer Reviews for

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Compelling and touching journey to uncover a family secret.

Mr. Luxenberg has thoroughly researched every facet of his family's history in his quest to learn more about his deceased mother and the secret she took to her grave. Simultaneously, this book reads like a novel, a revealing history of mental illness treatment in the U...
Mr. Luxenberg has thoroughly researched every facet of his family's history in his quest to learn more about his deceased mother and the secret she took to her grave. Simultaneously, this book reads like a novel, a revealing history of mental illness treatment in the U.S., a memoir of WWII-era European-Americans, and a compassionate look at the interior lives of this professional writer's ancestors. I was totally absorbed from start to finish, drawn in by Mr. Luxenberg's detailed fact-finding and his unwillingness to give up his search for the truth. I am fortunate to have found an advance copy three months prior to its publication.

posted by SallyS on February 19, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

I didnt care for this book,more like textbook reading

This book was well written,but kept reverting back to insignificant characters,dates and facts pertaining to assylums.I was hoping the dulldrum of reading was going to lead to a significant and unusual ending.It did not.Very disapointed.

posted by eliska on July 14, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    Excellent!

    ANNIE'S GHOST is a true account about a son who who discovers after his mother's death that she had a sister her children never knew about. The son's investigative search tries to found out about Annie and why his mother lied about never having a sister and what affect that lie had on his mother, the family, and friends. This excellent book reads like a novel. The author includes historical information which tries to explain why people acted as they did. It's a satisfying book which leaves the reader thinking about people's choices.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good story

    The family mystery is very intriguing. The author throws in a lot of other facts and little tidbits of information which don't necessarily have anything to do with the story of Annie, and could easily have been left out. He made some of these add-ons quite lenghty, which made the book boring at times. Overall, I enjoyed the story of Annie immensely, and you really start to feel for this person. Would recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    I didnt care for this book,more like textbook reading

    This book was well written,but kept reverting back to insignificant characters,dates and facts pertaining to assylums.I was hoping the dulldrum of reading was going to lead to a significant and unusual ending.It did not.Very disapointed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Compelling and touching journey to uncover a family secret.

    Mr. Luxenberg has thoroughly researched every facet of his family's history in his quest to learn more about his deceased mother and the secret she took to her grave. Simultaneously, this book reads like a novel, a revealing history of mental illness treatment in the U.S., a memoir of WWII-era European-Americans, and a compassionate look at the interior lives of this professional writer's ancestors. I was totally absorbed from start to finish, drawn in by Mr. Luxenberg's detailed fact-finding and his unwillingness to give up his search for the truth. I am fortunate to have found an advance copy three months prior to its publication.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Sons and mothers it's complicated

    I only finished the book because it was this year's Michigan Reads selection and I agreed to attend a discussion. The book is rather like a "good, not great" movie that is 1/2 an hour too long. In part it appears that the author was "working out" his (rather late in life) realization that his mother had a part of her existence that did not totally revolve around her children. While the details of the bureaucratic obstacles represented new, albeit not surprising information, the author's petulance about them was palpable. It was not surprising at all to me that his mother chose not to subject herself to his inquisition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2014

    This book was part mystery, part memoir and part history.  It he

    This book was part mystery, part memoir and part history.  It held my interest from beginning to end.  The author related his very personal story in an unbiased and non judge-mental way.  Would recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    Wispstar

    Pads in quickly

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Excellent investigative writing!

    I enjoyed the story from start to finish, and it was made all the better by the writer's excellent style. It was fascinating to read about the stigma of mental illness in the early 20th century; this book came along at a time when I had just been told of an uncle in his 70s whom I never new existed. Astounding.

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  • Posted March 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Book!

    I loved it and could hardly put it down. We have a few "ghosts" in the family, so I could relate to Steve's quest. I recommend this book to anyone interested in family history and finding the truth in your family tree.

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  • Posted February 5, 2011

    Page turner

    I found this book to be very interesting and informative. The authors research in finding his missing Aunt is excellent. Makes you wonder if your family has any hidden secrets. The location of this book is local to me and I found that to be especially interesting. Excellent read from beginning to end

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  • Posted January 20, 2011

    where is my aunt?

    what a poignant and touching story. as the author works to give voice to a forgotten small voice Annie. he validates her life and the lives of thousands of unheard voices from a time when mental heallth truly sucked

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2010

    absorbing treatment of a sad way of treating people

    quick read and fascinating detail about research

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  • Posted February 7, 2010

    Annie's Ghosts Review

    I admire Steve Luxenberg for his research diligence even if his purpose was both personal and professional. The book offers lots of information about the institutional setting from 1930's to 1980's which is interesting but Mr. Luxenberg's writing also takes on an institutional quality. I think he tried too hard to write as an observer doing a newspaper story rather than from his inner heart, being personally involved as a nephew who discovers the existence of his aunt, he had no knowledge of because of his mom's shocking "cover up". It is too drawn-out for my taste but still I enjoyed reading it.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010

    LOVED IT!

    His research is his story. This is a great read for anyone who has tried to track down information on a family member. Also, since Eloise is local to me, I found information on it enlightening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2010

    EYE OPENING

    As a Michigan ex-pat, this book was a real eye opener. I grew up in the 50's close to a family that had a daughter with eerily similar mental disabilities. This family was "counselled" to put the girl in a facility, put her away, more or less like Annie. They opted for her to live in their family, in our neighborhood, and we were all richer for the contact.
    I'm not sure we've grown much in handling mental illness or mental disabilities, but the past surely is a sad remembrance. Annie's sister, the author's mother, should be an example to us all on how not to live our lives, hiding whatever skeletons we perceive to own.

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  • Posted November 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Book You Won't Forget!

    "Though we share so many secrets
    There are some we never tell"

    The Stranger by Billy Joel

    When journalist Steve Luxenberg discovers after his mother's death that she was not an only child, bur rather had a physically and mentally disabled sister, Annie, he embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind his mother's secret. What he discovers is a societal and legal system that for decades sequestered the mentally ill and disabled into institutions - leaving behind few traces of the person institutionalized. And on a personal level, he gains insight into his mother's abandonment of Annie. Luxenburg surmises that his mother felt compelled to keep her sister's existence a secret because at that time (the 30's - 40's) "psychiatry was a long way from curing the seriously ill; and . . . genetics [were believed to] be a factor."

    Although Luxenberg's quest does not uncover all the answers to his questions he expresses overall satisfaction with the results. He reflects that "my search has allowed me to achieve a freedom of my own: free to see my mother as she was, free to embrace her flaws and accept her choices, free to put aside, once and for all, [and] the pain of not being able to help her . . ."

    Annie's Ghosts is a fascinating detective story/memoir of one son's determination to understand.

    Publisher: Hyperion (May 5, 2009)
    Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the publisher and FSB Associates.

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  • Posted August 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent story of discovering a family secret long suppressed.

    Great reading for anyone interested in genealogy, family history or finding a skeleton in the family closet and lets face it we all have a few of those. The author delves into mental illness and how it was diagnosed and treated in the 1940's or misdiagnosed at times. I found the book easily read and followed. No confusion between the various characters. Though the pacing was good the last few chapters did seem to move slowly. however I did appreciate the intense research that no doubt went into the creation of the book. My hats off to the designer of the book jacket the color and illustration drew me like a magnet to it.

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  • Posted July 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A compelling story

    Steve Luxenberg always knew his mother was an only child, just as he knew her name was Beth. He and his siblings are shocked when his mother mentions, during a routine medical history, a younger sister who was sent away. After his mother's death, Luxenberg begins to investigate the story of the sister and why his mother had kept Annie a secret all that time.

    Annie's Ghosts is an absolutely fantastic book! I was so drawn into the story that I finished reading it in two days, picking it up every time my daughter took a nap. The story of the secret sister is compelling and Luxenberg is a wonderful story teller. His journalistic background is evident as he documented all his research and was clearly able to put people at ease and draw out their memories while influencing them as little as possible.

    Luxenberg weaves his personal search for information about his aunt in with the history of mental health care in Michigan during the time when his mother and aunt were growing up. His research connects him to relatives that he didn't realize existed and reconnects him with some of his mother's childhood friends. In attempting to gain as much information as possible about his aunt's life in a large mental institution near Detroit, he faces many roadblocks including needing to gain legal authority to access the records and then finding out that many of those records had been destroyed.

    Luxenberg often ponders his mother's motives for keeping her sister a secret and wonders how containing that secret for so long affected her. With most of the principal characters in the story already dead, it is likely that he will never find definitive answers to his many questions. However while this story certainly started out as a personal family quest, Luxenberg expands his scope to revealing the lives of so many like Annie who were sent away, lost and forgotten.

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  • Posted June 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Family Secrets

    Annie's Ghost is a story about uncovering family secrets and accepting that we don't always know everything about our loved one's past. In this book, Luxenberg writes about his mother's secret- she was not an only child, as she had always claimed. After her death, the family discovers she had a disabled sister who was institutionalized in her early 20's. Luxenberg chronicles his families efforts to discover and come to terms with this truth.

    I received an Early Reviewer's Copy of this book, and struggled to finish it- although admittedly, I am in the minority of reviewers that feels this way. Initially, I was intrigued by the storyline, but quickly lost interest, because the author spends most of the time describing, what seemed to be, every investigative phone call and conversation, instead of writing about the major events. I felt Luxenburg did not tell me enough about Annie, so I didn't get a sense of who she was. This book deals with the families experience as they come to the realization that their mother was not completely truthful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    What do we know about our history?

    Like most people, I assume that I know my parents. That they stories they have told me about their past are fairly all-inclusive, and that the stuff they have left out is irrelevant at best. It is easy to forget that they were people long before they were parents, that they had their share of trials and tribulations, and that I didn't come into the picture until most of their struggles had subsided. After reading Annie's Ghosts, I realized that perhaps the most important parts of my parents' pre-parental existence may very well have been the ones they chose to omit from their own personal narratives. I only know the condensed version, the PG version that was cleaned up for my child's brain and never updated when I became an adult.

    Annie's Ghosts is the story of one family's hidden history. A few years prior to his mother's death, Steve Luxenberg discovers a skeleton in her closet. Beth, a self-professed 'only child,' had a younger sister. As the story goes, the child had been mentally ill and institutionalized when Beth was only four years old. Because of his mother's declining health, both mental and physical, Steve and his siblings decide not to press her about the rumor. She passes away in August 1999, unaware that her children have discovered her long-buried secret, and therefore without divulging any information to them.

    After his mother's death, a strange new fact is presented. Beth's sister, Annie, had not been institutionalized as a young child but as a young woman of almost 21 years old. And Beth had been 23. However, no one in Steven's family had known that the sister had even existed. He wonders how and why his mother perpetrated the secret, and begins to dig deeper into his family's history.

    What he uncovers is a maze of information that seems to add questions rather than answer them. (What was his mother's REAL name? Were his grandparents first cousins? Did his father know about Annie? Why did his father end up in a military psych hospital?) In a journey through a different (though recent) generation, we follow Steve's family through the holocaust and emigration to America. We also get a taste of the mental health care system that was in its infancy in this nation during the '40s, and follow its evolution through to the present day.

    While many of the questions that are posed throughout the book are inevitably unanswered (a great many of the people who knew about Annie's existence are deceased by the time Steve's research begins), it is still a satisfying, four star read. It begs the question, "What do any of us really know about our family history?" It is also a shocking look into the way mentally and physically ill people were treated in this country as recently as 50 years ago. While we can't change the past, shedding light on some of the dark times in our history may certainly prevent them from repeating themselves

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