The Home for Unwanted Girls
Author: Joanna Goodman
Published: April 17, 2018
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.
Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.
Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.
Overall, this was a good book. Orphanages reorganized into mental hospitals, all the orphans relabeled as mentally retarded. That right there is enough to draw me in, I really don’t ask for much! As historical fiction, I enjoyed it. The family saga is interesting and engaging. The stigmas and prejudices of the time came out plainly and were both understandable and disturbing. I liked most of the characters and sympathized through most of the story. But the thing that I had a hard time getting over was the victim mentality that saturated the entire story. In some situations, “victim” seemed the appropriate label; but then when someone was faced with the consequences of their actions, all of a sudden, they’re a victim. That got old really fast.
Other than that, the story was emotional and I quickly found myself caring. This book is the better version of Lisa Wingate’s books. The story was complete and I felt like I got all pertinent information; no loose ends were left. I enjoyed this book and while I won’t ever read it again, I will say that those who enjoy emotional historical fiction will enjoy it too.