The Hidden Life of Cecily Larson

HarperAudio. Feb. 2024. 13:55 hrs. ISBN 9780063351226. $27.99. F
Baker’s (I Gave My Heart To Know This) latest historical novel follows Cecily Larson, who was abandoned at an orphanage at the age of four and sold to a circus when she was just seven. Trained as a bareback rider, Cecily flourishes at the circus, but a forbidden love and unplanned pregnancy upend her life. Later, in 2015, her grandson’s DNA school project prompts 94-year-old Cecily to reveal long-buried family secrets. Narrator Cassandra Campbell modulates her voice, enhancing the unique personalities Baker gives to each character in this dual-timeline novel. Of particular note is Campbell’s portrayal of young Cecily, whose fragility and innocence transform into resilience and strength. Though listeners will have to keep track of multiple storylines, including a range of characters and some shocking reveals, Campbell’s consistent, sensitive narration is a steadying presence. Intergenerational legacies, unexpected DNA test results, and a fascinating glimpse into 1920s circus life make for a gripping, if occasionally heartbreaking listen.
VERDICT Tumultuous, beautifully described historical fiction for fans of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, and Gary Jennings’s “Spangle” series.
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