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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Book Review: The Mad Girls of New York

I’m a fan of reporter Nellie Bly and have read a few biographies and nonfiction books about her trip 72 day trip around the world against Elisabeth Bisland, and her time on Blackwell’s Island, so when I saw there was a fictionalized account of her adventures, I knew I had to read it.

THE MAD GIRLS OF NEW YORK by Maya Rodale Berkley Trade Paperback; on sale April 26, 2022


The year is 1887, and Nellie Bly is a young woman with a dream: to write for one of New York’s most respected newspapers. The editors on Newspaper Row are convinced that women are too emotional and delicate to report on the harshness of the city’s scandals—and Bly is on a mission to prove them wrong.

But how does a woman pave a path for herself in such a cut-throat and male-dominated industry? Nellie’s solution: by playing a part that only a woman can. Her pitch: she’ll go undercover as an admitted patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women, a facility that has long been rumored to be a deplorable ruin where New York’s unwanted women are locked away and forgotten. Journalists are turned away at its doors. So it’s up to a female reporter who can play the part of a mad woman to expose the truth—and Nellie is just the woman to do it.

The New York World agrees to put Nellie’s acumen to the test. Nellie will have herself admitted, experience the horrors of Blackwell’s first-hand, and her editor will check her out of the facility in one week. But once inside, can she make it out and publish her findings before a (very attractive) rival journalist scoops her story?


Nelly is clever, determined, and oh so tired of being underestimated because she’s a woman. In 1887 she’s arrived in New York to further her investigative reporting career, but none of the papers will give her the time of day. She has no job, no money, and no friends—until she follows a woman leaving The World offices and discovers a group of women reporters.

“Women have to look out for each other because no one else will. Remember that.”

She gets the idea for a “stunt” and manages to present her scheme to be admitted to an insane asylum for women in order to report on the deplorable conditions. She has no plan on how to be admitted and little plan for getting released, but that doesn’t rein in her enthusiasm in the slightest.

While I liked her supporting cast of friends and acquaintances, I didn’t enjoy their points of view as much as Nellie’s. I could have stayed with her the entire time. Sam Colton with the Sun needs a scoop to support his ill sister and Marian from the Herald wants to write for more than the ladies’ pages. Everything tied up satisfyingly at the end. There’s an excellent balance between Nellie’s spunk and courage, and her fear and revulsion at how the women at the asylum were treated. It’s a fast-paced and sometimes horrifying blend of fact and fiction. All of the women portrayed stayed with me, especially Princess’s snd the tie-in to Marian’s story. The writing is modern, snappy and clear—just like Nellie. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I received an ARC from NetGalley

Have you ever heard of Nellie Bly? Do you like stories set in Gilded Age New York?

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