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.