Targeted at younger readers, Freeing Linhurst is a thrilling mystery that follows the adventures of Jack Alexander, an intrepid young investigator who is following in his mother’s footsteps – determined to uncover the truth about Linhurst State School and Hospital – an abandoned mental asylum in town.
Jack doesn’t know exactly what happened at Linhurst, but after choosing to write a school paper on the subject, his curiosity leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole. The scars of the asylum can still be seen all around, particularly in the ex-residents who still populate the town of Spring Dale. There are undoubtedly secrets buried in that strange place, and Jack isn’t going to let the old padded rooms and horror stories keep him from doing his own real-world research.
This newfound fascination leads Jack deeper into the history of the town, the shameful activities that had once occurred at Linhurst, and the old secrets that some citizens would prefer to keep buried. From the librarian to the old florist, even hearing the word Linhurst seems to spook the townspeople.
With the mystery growing in his head, and a strange glowing amulet from his mother complicating his life at school, Jack is close to giving up on his Linhurst obsession when he and Celia have an unexpected conversation with the school janitor, Mose. After hearing what he has to say about his time at the asylum, Jack and Celia decide to tempt fate and see the inside of Linhurst for themselves – on Halloween night. The stage is set for a spine-tingling evening, but what these young explorers experience is quite different than the ghost stories they had grown up hearing.
While this book is an excellent mystery for young adults and children, there are much more complex lessons and a very important undertone throughout the book. With the mental asylum at the center of the plot, as well as revelations about criminal treatment and disrespect for the mentally disabled, it is clear that this subject is close to author Al Cassidy’s heart. The foreword of the book explains how the story is loosely based on his own childhood, and the institution that lay at the center of his own town. This book will serve as entertainment, but may also spread awareness of problems that still exist in the treatment of those with mental disabilities.
As a whole, the pacing of the book is solid, the characters are entertaining, and the plot is unpredictable. For a story targeted at young readers, it isn’t overly simplistic and the prose is well-edited. The personalities of the 9th graders are captured surprisingly well, as are their interactions and emotions during those developmental years. A mystery with a creepy mental institution at its center isn’t the most unique premise for a novel, but Cassidy paints his novel with colorful characters, and an important message.
The entire tale is exciting and mysterious, yet also gives readers plenty to think about once the last chapter comes to a close. Al Cassidy delivers a powerful and relatable book in Freeing Linhurst that will be memorable for children and adults alike.
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