Book Review – Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Book review, book review! I’ve got another book review!

I had heard all sorts of good things about this book on the BookRiot podcasts, and when I signed up for Blogging for Books, this was one of the first options available for request, so I jumped on it. Literary fiction isn’t usually my jam, but this synopsis intrigued me. Anyway. Here we go.

Lady is newly separated from her husband and is looking for a live-in nanny for her younger son, two-year-old Devin. She interviews Esther, they jive, and Esther is immediately hired. Esther, who is going by S and trying to emulate her own mother for an art project, moves into the pool house, where she drinks and does art. Then some stuff happens – Lady and Esther both have significant mother issues – and everything comes to a head.


3 Things I Loved

  1. SETH. Okay. I’ve mentioned this in every single review and progress update while I was reading – I just fell in love with Seth in this book. He has selective mutism and has never spoken a word, but he is described as the most expressive person in the whole book. He may never speak, but he tells these entire stories. And I felt for him – his mother (Lady) is super overprotective, and he doesn’t know his biological father, and he and Esther have this complicated relationship that was nuanced and so wonderful to read. I wanted more Seth throughout this entire book. I wish he had been a narrator.
  2. Esther’s art project. So, Esther has serious mommy issues, and she decides to channel her mother into art by drinking herself sick and painting. She puts an ad on Craig’s List for pictures of people’s mothers to paint and then photograph, and it’s fascinating. She seems aware of her issues with her mother, but she’s not so much trying to combat them as she is to embrace them. It’s weird and darkly funny and I didn’t really understand, but I was there for it.
  3. Karl. Karl is Lady’s estranged husband, and he was a shining light amongst terrible people in this book. He loved Devin, and despite everything, he loved Lady. But the best part was how he loved Seth when no one else really saw Seth as a complex human being. He adopted Seth, and he lets Seth stay with him during the estrangement, and he’s a stand-up guy. I don’t like his part in the ending, but I mean – you’ll hear more about that in a second.

Anything Problematic?

YES. Oh my goodness, yes. So I loved Seth, as I’ve said. Part of why I loved him was that I felt so bad for him throughout the whole book – his mother did not treat his illness as an illness. She both downplayed it and made it seem like this insurmountable roadblock, and it made me cringe on each mention.

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder. I can’t say I’m an expert or anything, but based on the internet research I did while reading, it’s extremely rare for a child to never speak at all – most kids with selective mutism can speak when they’re comfortable but can’t when they’re anxious. But Seth never speaks at all. And Lady – ugh, his mother is so horrible most of the time. She describes him to Esther before Esther meets him as “nonverbal, but not autistic or a genius.” And she refuses to learn sign language, because she thinks Seth should communicate with her in a way that she is comfortable. Like, wow. WOW. That’s his mother. I get that’s her characterization, but I hated it. Seth needs to be protected at all costs, because sure, he has problems, but all of his problems’ roots at least make sense (ahem, his mother).

So, yeah, the way that Seth’s mental illness is described in the book is inherently problematic. And that may have been the point, but it was still hard to read.


A reminder of the rating system:

  • Red = DNF, I hated everything
  • Orange = Ugh, no thank you
  • Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
  • Green = This was good, but not something I’d reread
  • Blue = Oh my gosh, everyone should be reading this book
  • Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart

Since Seth was one of few redeeming qualities in this book, and the ending was one of the most disappointing endings I’ve read in a long time (I NEEDED A BETTER SETH CONCLUSION), I closed this book feeling very unhappy with it. Plus, there were the problems with how Seth’s selective mutism is handled. Also, alcoholism, because there were alcoholics all over the place in this book. So anyway. I’m giving Woman No. 17 a YELLOW rating. Some people will really like this, and the writing itself was beautiful. But just. Ugh. And also, MORE SETH ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME??

This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinions in the slightest.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Happy reading!


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