The Home for Unwanted Girls

The Home for Unwanted Girls

A Novel

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:

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.

Publisher: New York : Harper, c2018
ISBN: 9780062834089
Branch Call Number: GOO
Characteristics: 364 p. ;,24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 28, 2021

I could not put this book down. I was not aware of the Duplessis orphans and was often moved to tears many times as I read this story. A vile and shocking story of abuse by the Duplessis government in Quebec and the Catholic Church. Kudos to Joanna Goodman for keeping this story in the forefront. I’m looking forward to reading the follow up book The Forgotten Daughter.

Apr 15, 2021

Excellent read, would recommend.

WPL_Erin Mar 12, 2021

Really liked this one! Loved the different perspectives and the back and forth.

Jan 26, 2021

what should've been a searing condemnation of the abuse of orphaned children during the Duplessis era, by mandate, becomes a sappy love story complete with a fairy tale ending - yech

Jan 04, 2021

A real page turner. From the moment I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I absolutely loved this book from start to finish.

Oct 20, 2020

An incredible story revealing a shameful period of history in Quebec under Duplessis in the 50's. Beautifully written , captivating ,emotional, with two endearing main protagonists :historical fiction at its best. I highly recommend it.

Jul 27, 2020

I loved this book from the very first page until the end. I did not know about the orphanages in Quebec in the 1950’s and the transition to mental hospitals. It was certainly an eye opener. I would definitely recommend this book.

ArapahoeKristy Jul 20, 2020

After a slow start I thoroughly enjoyed this novel based on true events taking place in Canada in the 1950s. At the age of 16, Maggie is forced to give up her baby. Years pass and orphanages are turned into mental institutions so that they qualify for more government funding. Meanwhile, Maggie has begun to search for the baby she wasn't allowed to raise and faces one obstacle after another when she is denied information about her child time and time again.

Dec 24, 2019

Orphanages of 50'-70's exposed in Canada. Heart wrenching details of the conditions. All too normal that young women are not educated about their bodies or taught how to traverse the hormonal upswing of puberty. Of course the mid 1900's this education was probably nonexistent almost everywhere not mention methods of preventing pregnancy. Goodman weaves a tale of a family, community of multicultural people and how their lives evolve w/ emphasis on Mother and daughter bonds. and following one's heart.

Nov 29, 2019

Captivating from page one straight through to the end. Highly recommend this book.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability
Oct 31, 2019

t3485tank thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Summary
SPL_Sonya Sep 10, 2018

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is both a heart-wrenching and heart warming novel of  historical fiction set in Montreal and the Eastern Townships of Quebec spanning almost 30 years beginning in 1948.  It is the story of Maggie, the daughter of an educated Anglo-Canadian father and a French Canadian mother from a poor family.  Their marriage is precarious and a reflection of the relationships among the French and English residents in their small town southeast of Montreal who simply tolerate each other.  At the age of 15 Maggie falls in love with Gabriel, a handsome 16 year old French Canadian farm boy with blond hair and grey eyes.  Maggie's father disapproves of their relationship as he has a better future in mind for her. He sends her away to live with her aunt and uncle.  When Maggie gives birth to a daughter the baby is sent to an orphanage.  Maggie names her daughter Elodie which is a type of hardy lily.  Elodie will need the resilience that her name bestows to survive the neglect and abuse of the church run orphanages turned mental institutions, a plan by the provincial government under Premier Maurice Duplessis to receive more federal funding. Ten years after Elodie is born, Maggie and Gabriel reconnect and start a new life together, one which includes the search for their daughter.  The end of the novel is one of hope and forgiveness but also of determination to reveal the injustices suffered by thousands of children at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Government of Quebec at the time.

Goodman writes a beautifully descriptive, moving novel with well developed characters.  The novel flows chronologically in third person narrative with chapters alternating between Maggie and Elodie.   Readers of historical fiction and family sagas should find this novel especially appealing.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at PMPL

To Top