Monday, 11 June 2018

The Home For Unwanted Girls

Author: Joanna Goodman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Published: April 17, 2018
First Line: "1950 - He who plants a seed plants life."

Book Description from GoodReadsPhilomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

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.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This book is going to get people talking. Is it a riveting story about a horrible time in Canadian history? Yes. Does it deal with sensitive and emotional subject matter? Yes. Will it give readers a lot to talk about in their book clubs.  Undoubtedly.

The story is told in alternating points of view of Maggie and Elodie, as they each struggle within the confines that society has placed on them in the hope that they'll be reunited with each other one day. But Goodman also incorporates other issues that permeated Quebec in the 1950's, like the blatant animosity between Anglophones and Francophones. But it was another event in Canada's history that hit me the hardest.

That event -- Quebec orphanages being turned into mental asylums merely for financial gain -- is one that I, embarrassingly, knew nothing about. Also showcased is the flagrant abuse of power of the Catholic church, the apathetic actions of the Quebec and federal governments as well as the swift and unwavering judgement by society which, together, lead to devastating consequences for thousands of young Quebec girls over the course of many years.

While this is a story about family bonds, loss and perseverance, it is also an eye-opening story about the abuse of power and a society whose judgement is more important than the welfare of its children. With issues like those, it's not surprising that this book has emotional scenes but, if I'm being honest, my feelings for the book faltered a bit towards the end. Around two-thirds of the way through I felt the book loses momentum and after all of the emotion and anguish throughout the book, the ending felt weaker than I was expecting. 

Overall, this is a wonderful read that confronts a horrible time in our history within an emotional story that will bring lively and heated discussion to any book group.

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