Monday 4 June 2018

Book ~ "The Home for Unwanted Girls" (2018) Joanna Goodman

From GoodreadsIn 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. 

Maggie is the daughter of an English father and a French mother outside Montreal in the late 1940s/early 1950s.  Her father owns a seed shop where Maggie loves to work and hopes to eventually manage.  As a teenager, she falls in love with Gabriel, a poor French boy who lives next door.  Her parents want a better life for her and try to break them up.  When Maggie discovers she is pregnant, her parents send her away to have the baby so the family wouldn't be shamed.

Maggie becomes an adult and marries the kind of man her parents had in mind for her.  When she runs into Gabriel years later, she realizes how unhappy she is and her marriage breaks up.  She has never forgotten Elodie and is determined to find her.

The baby, Elodie, was put up for adoption, which turns out doesn't happen.  Instead Elodie is placed in a Catholic orphanage.  Because they received more funding from the Quebec government, orphanages became mental institutions and the orphans were recategorized as mental patients and people with real mental illnesses were moved into the orphanages to live among them.  Elodie keeps dreaming that her family would eventually find her and rescue her.  She is released when she becomes an adult, uneducated and naïve to the real world.

It's the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it.  It was hard to read at times because brutal and abusing treatment of the orphans, especially by the nuns.  It was an interesting story and is based on the Duplessis Orphans.  I wasn't aware of them and was horrified to learn more.  I also didn't realize how deep the rivalry was between the English and the French in Quebec at that time.

I liked the writing style.  It is written in third person perspective alternating between Maggie and Elodie's voices.  As a head's up, there is swearing and violence.  I thought the characters were believable and cheering for Maggie and Elodie.

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