From the book jacket:
Philomena 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.
Ahoy, there may be spoilers …
I was drawn to this title based on the Canadian history; I honestly had zero idea of the events that happened in Quebec and was shocked and saddened when I did a little research after I finished reading the book. What a tragic thing for those mothers and children to go through!
That all being said, The Home for Unwanted Girls really captured my attention and I had a hard time putting it down once I got into it. My heart ached for both Maggie and Elodie as they went through life yearning to be reunited with one another. A huge part of me desperately wanted them to be reunited, but part of me was skeptical if that was going to actually happen or not.
The Home for Unwanted Girls is so much more than a story about orphans and reuniting as well. Goodman included just a hint of women’s rights in the story that wasn’t over the top but still makes you see how far we’ve come. (And how far we still have to go.)
I’ll admit that I thought that it was a little long (thus the half-star deduction) and there were a couple of parts I didn’t find to be really necessary, such as the whole thing between Gabriel’s sister and Maggie’s father. I really didn’t think it added much to the story, other than maybe that’s part of the reason why he forbid Maggie from being with Gabriel? Either way, I could’ve done without it.
Still though, it’s a really interesting read that has inspired me to learn more about Quebec’s history. I’ll fully admit I don’t know enough about the province.
My rating: ★★★★½ 5