Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

Guests on Earth by Lee SmithGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Published by Algonquin Books on 5/13/2014
Source: Purchased
Pages: 348
Buy from IndieBound


Following her mother’s death, thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is sent to Highland Hospital in North Carolina, the same mental institution where Zelda Fitzgerald and eight other women died in an intentionally set fire in 1948. With an inventive blend of history and fiction, Lee Smith follows Evalina through the 1930’s and 40’s, as she experiences the treatments prescribed by Dr. Carroll, who runs the hospital, as well as the imagined events leading up to the tragedy that took so many lives.

This is not a story about Zelda Fitzgerald – she spends her time along the periphery of the novel, becoming more of a fascination for Evalina than the true friends she develops during her stay. Instead, Guests on Earth revolves around the numerous other voices that filled the hallways of Highland Hospital; the important, unsung heroes Sarah Kennedy mentioned in yesterday’s guest post. Though not all of them existed as real people, they represent the broad spectrum of lives that were impacted by the Carrolls and the time they spent at the hospital.

Smith’s well-practiced ability to develop both setting and story shines from every page of Guests on Earth, a novel as enchanting as the rolling hills of North Carolina. 

  • Lindsey Stefan

    This sounds really good. I find Zelda fascinating, but I could see how making her a main character would take away from the author’s ability to really explore mental health care during that time period.

    • You’ll find she’s in the story the perfect amount – just enough to find out little details about her that you might not have known, but not enough to be distracting from the overall story.

  • The Book Wheel

    I love Fitzgerald-y books! I am going to go pick this one up (you know, when I have time)

  • A 13-year-old…I’m trying to imagine reading a book like this from that perspective. Wow.

  • Another waka -waka moment. My 84-year-old father was just talking to me about reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and how fascinating it was. I’m glad you noted that she’s on the edge of this novel but I still may recommend it to him.

    • If it’s the biography I’m thinking of, that’s a great one! This would be a really good book to read alongside it.

  • This sounds like an interesting read. I am like to read about what mental health care looked like over time.

    • Lee Smith talked about having some deep connections as a mental health advocate when I saw her speak, which is part of what made her want to write the story.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End

    Oo, sounds really good. I read one book by Lee Smith, years ago, not expecting to enjoy it, and I thought it was fantastic. It’s high time I tried another one!