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Note: This blog post contains spoilers for the novel. If you haven’t read the book yet and wish to avoid spoilers, please proceed with caution.
The Second Life of Mirielle West is a historical fiction book by American author Amanda Skenandore. It’s set in a place called the “Louisiana Leper Home” in Carville, Louisiana, which was a closed-off community from the late 1800s to the 1970s for people with leprosy.
Amanda Skenandore, who’s also a registered nurse, uses her medical knowledge and research to show how tough it was for leprosy patients in Carville during the 20th century. The story happens in the 1920s and follows Mirielle West, who used to have a glamorous life in Hollywood but now faces isolation as a leprosy patient.
So, if you’ve read The Second Life of Mirielle West and want to know more about the book’s ending, keep reading. Below you will find my thoughts as to what happens at the end of book – The Second Life of Mirielle West ending explained.
Mirielle West, who is the wife of a famous silent film star named Charlie West, hurts her hand while using a hair-curling iron.
When a doctor examines her, they notice some marks on her skin that worry them. After more tests, the doctor tells Mirielle that she has leprosy, a serious disease. She is sent to a special place in Louisiana called Carville, where people with leprosy live.
At first, Mirielle doesn’t believe she has leprosy. She thinks she’s better than the other patients at Carville because she’s wealthy and has a high social status.
But when tests at Carville confirm what the doctor said, Mirielle has to stay there for a year. She’ll get a test every month to see if the disease is still there. If she has 12 tests that show she’s okay, she can go back home to Los Angeles.
Mirielle doesn’t like living with the other patients at Carville. She’s scared she might catch the disease from them, and she doesn’t want to be around them. She tries to escape by finding a hole in the fence, but she can’t find it. She then tries to climb the fence, but she hurts herself and gets caught. As a result, she has to stay in a kind of jail at Carville.
The head doctor at Carville, Dr. Ross, tells Mirielle she should get a job to be a part of the community. Mirielle has never worked before and doesn’t really want to, but she remembers a letter from her husband where he said she lacked ambition.
Dr. Ross tells her that they’re trying to find a cure for leprosy at Carville, and Mirielle gets interested. She thinks she can help and wants to prove her husband wrong, so she decides to follow Dr. Ross’s advice.
Mirielle is given different jobs to do at Carville, like helping out in the women’s infirmary, working in the pharmacy, and assisting at the shot clinic. She doesn’t really like these tasks and doesn’t think they’ll actually help find a cure for her disease, so she does them without much enthusiasm.
Sister Verena, who is in charge of Mirielle, doesn’t tolerate Mirielle’s lack of interest and clashes with her often. But Mirielle is set on getting rid of her disease so she can go back to her daughters and husband. This goal pushes her to work harder, and she becomes good at what she does.
As time passes, Mirielle makes friends with some other patients. She becomes especially close to Irene, who takes care of their living area, as well as Jean, a young girl who was left by her family, and Frank, a cheerful guy from Louisiana whose hands have been affected by the disease.
Mirielle also gets involved in the What Cheer Club, a group that plans parties and social events at Carville. Even though she enjoys her work and social life, her main focus is still on leaving Carville and going back to her old life. She tries a treatment called the fever trial, but it doesn’t work out because it harms one of the patients.
Mirielle’s relationship with her husband deteriorates during this time. Their son Felix died in an accident, and Mirielle struggled with depression and alcohol. This has put a strain on their marriage, and the family nanny has taken on a bigger role in her daughters’ lives.
Along with that, gossip about Mirielle’s situation shows up in a Hollywood magazine, adding more stress to her life. She’s also dealing with a lot of sadness and guilt about her son’s death.
During this tough time, Mirielle starts to get closer to Frank, even though she initially didn’t like how he acted and was shocked by how leprosy affected his hands.
Frank becomes a source of comfort for Mirielle, especially after Irene dies by suicide. Their friendship has its ups and downs because they have different ways of dealing with life with the disease.
The story takes a big turn when Mirielle, who has been getting negative skin test results, suddenly gets a positive one. This means she has to stay at Carville for at least another year, crushing her hope of getting rid of the disease.
Mirielle becomes very upset and pushes everyone away, even Jean who tries to help. Eventually, Sister Verena convinces her to rejoin the activities at Carville. Just then, Mirielle finds out that her daughter Helen is sick with scarlet fever and that Jean has run away.
Feeling determined to see her daughter, Mirielle escapes from Carville with Sister Verena’s help. She realizes that if she goes to her daughter, she might spread the disease to her family and make them suffer the stigma. So, instead of going to Helen, she goes looking for Jean.
Mirielle’s search for Jean is tough. She only has a bit of information about Jean’s father working as a boatwright. She discovers that Jean’s father sent her away to protect her from the disease’s stigma and to keep her half-siblings safe.
Eventually, Mirielle finds a weak and sick Jean hiding at a shipyard. She takes care of Jean and they head back to Carville together.
During their journey, Mirielle contacts Charlie, her husband, who lets her know that Helen is better. He hints that he’s made a decision and has written a letter to Mirielle. Mirielle guesses that he wants a divorce.
When Mirielle and Jean reach the train station, they expect Sister Verena, but a storm delayed her. Instead, they find Frank, and they head back to Carville as the nearby towns evacuate due to a flood.
At Carville, Jean gets the treatment she needs, and everyone gets ready to evacuate. Mirielle and Frank help the residents onto a river barge as the storm approaches. Luckily, the storm doesn’t hit Carville directly, and Jean starts recovering.
The story’s Epilogue takes place more than a decade after the flood. Mirielle continues working at Carville alongside the nurses and has married Frank. She’s sure she won’t return to California, finding fulfillment in her life there. The novel ends with a touching moment as her grown daughters visit Mirielle for the first time.
The Second Life of Mirielle West Ending Explained
In the last part of the story, things start getting better for Mirielle. Something important happens when she finds out her daughter Helen is in the hospital. This makes Mirielle realize that she needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and that she really wants to go back to California to be with her children.
But her friends at Carville tell her it’s not a good idea because she might get sick and spread the disease. Even Sister Verena, who’s usually strict, helps Mirielle leave Carville to find her daughter.
Mirielle changes as a person because she understands that going back to California won’t help anyone. She knows she could make things worse and decides to help by finding Jean, who ran away.
Even though Mirielle didn’t mean to make Jean leave, her actions still played a part in it. By finding Jean and bringing her back, Mirielle can keep Jean safe, something she wasn’t able to do for her other children, Felix and Helen.
Finding Jean becomes really important to Mirielle. It’s like Jean has become a daughter to her, and she wants to make things right. This shows how much they care for each other. They create their own kind of family because the outside world doesn’t understand them.
Mirielle, Jean, and later on Frank, become like a chosen family, proving that being diagnosed with leprosy doesn’t mean you can’t have family and love.
Mirielle’s life changes a lot after she talks to Charlie on the phone. He tells her that he doesn’t blame her for their son Felix’s death. This conversation helps Mirielle forgive herself and start to move forward from her sadness.
Her time at Carville also shows her that she and Charlie have grown distant over time. The Mirielle who is at Carville now is very different from the one who arrived there months ago. So, she understands why Charlie wants a divorce, and she doesn’t hold it against him.
Mirielle and Frank, on the other hand, have fixed their relationship and truly love each other. In the end, they have a happy and meaningful life together.
Even though Mirielle’s life is different from what she expected, it’s still very fulfilling. She has important work, great friendships, and a sense of purpose and self-worth. This makes her life more enjoyable than her fancy high-society life from before.
When the story ends, we see that Mirielle’s relationship with her daughters is getting better too. The reunion with them hints that they will have a stronger connection and Mirielle will be a part of their lives, even if they’re not always together. This way, Mirielle has achieved what she wanted most of all: a life that’s full of meaning and love.
Happy reading! ❤️