The Home for Unwanted Girls
A NovelBook - 2018
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.
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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.
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