Deb Henry’s The Whipping Club, a classic book club title, is set in 1960s Dublin and follows the travails of Marian McKeever, a feisty, young Catholic school teacher, and Ben Ellis, the Jewish journalist with whom she falls in love. Against all odds they plan to marry--until a stunned Marian discovers she’s pregnant. Confused, overwhelmed by the onslaught of objections to their marriage, and believing that she is protecting her future with Ben, Marian decides to hide her pregnancy from him and delivers the baby in secret. Assured that a better life with an American family awaits her infant Adrian, Marian relinquishes him to the nuns of Castleboro Mother Baby Home.
A decade later, Ben and Marian, now wed, raise their ten-year-old daughter, Johanna. Out of the past walks the nurse who delivered Adrian. She confesses to Marian that her young son has not been living in America, but is institutionalized in a notorious Catholic orphanage and there is little hope for his survival. Tormented by guilt that has plagued her throughout her marriage, Marian confronts the truth and reveals this long-buried secret to her family. Putting everything she holds dear at risk, she determines to bring her child home--and in so doing correct the wrongs of her past and challenge a society that chronically serves up children to a corrupt and abusive child care system.
Set against the political backdrop of a hidden Ireland, where thousands of adults and children were forcibly separated in the 1950's and 1960's, The Whipping Club chronicles young Adrian Ellis’s perilous travels through, and escape from, the Irish Industrial School system.
Interweaving the stories of several characters, including an inmate-friend of Adrian who does not survive, and Adrian’s own father who must finally take a heroic stand to save his son, the novel raises powerful questions about the nature of sin, guilt, and redemption. It is both a wrenching family drama and a chilling suspense story--one that explores the sacrificial secrets we keep to protect our loved ones and the impact that uncovered secrets have on marriage, family and society.
The Whipping Club deals with issues of family, identity, and prejudice in Frank McCourt’s Ireland, and echoes The Deep End of the Ocean in its portrait of one family whose tragedy holds the seed of saving grace. Like The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, it is both “heart-breaking and heart-healing.” And, like The Kite Runner, it is a deeply personal story with unforgettable characters and harrowing plot twists, framed by a disturbing and oppressive political landscape.