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Orphan Number Eight

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3.70  ·  Rating details ·  17,218 ratings  ·  1,876 reviews
In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before.

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a
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Paperback, 416 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published July 7th 2015)
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Ash I actually thought that the early descriptions about Visha and Harry were much more detailed than anything on the homosexual side of the spectrum in…moreI actually thought that the early descriptions about Visha and Harry were much more detailed than anything on the homosexual side of the spectrum in the book. I'm kind of surprised at the comments here about it. It seems like people are just uncomfortable that the book 'had gay stuff in it'.

I'm probably as docile as anyone can be in the sexual expression department, and I didn't see that aspect as excessive. It's clearly a coming of age story, and part of that journey is sexual awakening. That gets tuned down in young adult books, but it isn't hidden in general literature. Especially being raised as an orphan, where she would not have any real guidance on sexual development, I felt her figuring herself out was very pertinent to the main themes (figuring out who she was outside of the rigorous confines of the Home).

It was far from my favorite book, but I enjoyed the glimpse into history and culture, and the perspective of an individual that was forever destined to be outside 'normal society'. Every explored aspect of her life reinforces that primary theme. Perhaps the offense observed here just reinforces the plight of the character's rejection for being who she is.(less)
Gilda Interesting history and a fairly decent plot. However, one of the major themes in the novel was not disclosed in the brief synopsis located at the…moreInteresting history and a fairly decent plot. However, one of the major themes in the novel was not disclosed in the brief synopsis located at the back of the book cover. It simply isn't fair to any potential reader to "sneak"major themes in a novel. A major theme with explicit sexual scenes should be noted. I think most readers prefer to be an informed potential buyer. I personally find hidden agendas offensive.(less)
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3.70  · 
Rating details
 ·  17,218 ratings  ·  1,876 reviews


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May 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
On the back cover the publisher describes this as "A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City's Jewish orphanages". And while this novel does deliver a degree of "historical fiction" on that subject, I felt like there was a hidden agenda being presented that the publisher chose not to mention.

Perhaps the author felt that making the Rachel, the main character, a lesbian, would garner more sympathy to her plight as an abused orphan. It actually detrac
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Angela M
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


A book inspired by true events is always intriguing to me because as I'm reading it I can't help but wonder about the specifics . Who of the characters is based on real people and how much of the plot is real or imagined ?

There are big ethical issues at the center of this story . Rachel , a nurse at the Old Hebrews Home in mid 1950's discovers that her new patient is someone from her past . Flashbacks to four year old Rachel in The Hebrew Infant Home show her suffering at the hands of cruel doc
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Nancy
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Great historical snapshot of orphanages and the medical experimentation occurring on the orphans at the time. Told in two timelines; when Rachel is 4 and enters the orphanage and experimentation begins, and then Rachel is forty something and working as a geriatric nurse when a new patient comes under her care - the very doctor that caused so much suffering for Rachel in the orphanage.

Both stories unfold and the reader quickly realizes the horrible conditions of said orphanages, although they ma
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Jennifer
Orphan #8 is a standalone, historical fiction novel written by English professor and now author: Kim van Alkemade. This is her first published novel.

The synopsis of Orphan #8 immediately intrigued me and as I began the audiobook, I felt engaged right away. The main character: Rachel Rabinowitz is a work of fiction, but her story is based on very real people, places, and events from 1920's America. Orphan #8 follows Rachel through alternating timeframes, first when she is a young child who has b
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Ashley
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
I really enjoy historical fiction books that expose me to real history I never knew about. I can't say that I'm surprised that medical professionals exploited orphans for medical research. It's much easier to use someone who cannot fight back for themselves and has no one to fight for them. I understand that Dr. Solomon and the real doctors like her thought the good that would come from the research would outweigh whatever bad things may have happened to these children, but to dehumanize even on ...more
Alison
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Seems to me that the jacket summary of a book should include the major themes of the book, but this one does not. The fact there is a major lesbian story line in this book isn't a spoiler but should be made known to potential readers. Then, the author decides to include explicit bedroom scenes and that ruined it for me completely. I liked the premise of Rachel coming face to face with the Dr. who performed x-ray experiments on her as a child but this arc was overshadowed and treated as almost an ...more
Connie G
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Author Kim van Alkemade was researching her own family history when she came across a purchase for wigs for eight young children who had lost their hair after X-ray treatments in a New York Jewish orphanage. The powerless healthy orphans had been used in medical research to see if X-rays could shrink the tonsils. Orphan #8 is Rachel Rabinowitz, a fictional character who received the largest dose of radiation as the subject of Dr Mildred Solomon's research.

Fast forward to 1954: Dr Solomon is admi
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Raven Haired Girl
Jul 08, 2015 added it
Shelves: 2015
I was hoping the narrative would concentrate primarily on Dr Solomon and Rachel’s encounter along with flashbacks to her orphanage days, instead it laid a heavier hand on Rachel and her relationship with her girlfriend. I wasn’t expecting a plot focusing on romance, needless to say I was letdown.

The plot was too busy for my taste. I wish Sam and Rachel were developed more, we were merely granted a sampling of their personalities limiting our familiarity on a personal level, a picture painted of
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Amy
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
Although I give credit to van Alkemade for bringing history to light, this book would have been so much better in the hands of an author such as Kristin Hannah or Jodi Picoult - an author who can tell the story without alienating or even offending the reader. This book had such potential, and for me it was ruined by the characters and lack of development. Very jarring scenes stuck in the storyline that broke the flow of the story and took away from the historical knowledge she was sharing. I fel ...more
Nancy
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sigh, I so wanted this to be something other than it was. The premise is intriguing and has promise. But the novel became something different for me.

Randomly, there is a homosexual sub-theme in the novel, which is essentially the main theme. Obviously I take no issue with homosexuality in literature (in fact, I don't think the representation is enough), but it just didn't need to be here. It did not work, and it did not add anything to the story. The plot should have already been interesting eno
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Maya White-Lurie
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Though I was initially startled by the switch in point of view, the narrative has great flow. Characters are complex, and I was kept in suspense.

Also, it's excellent to see some lesbian representation in historical fiction.
☮Karen
Book club read #9 Sept 2017.

If you had a chance at revenge for something awful that someone did to you, and you wouldn't get caught, plus no one would ever suspect what really happened, would you go for the revenge or opt to show mercy instead? Rachel Rabinowitz, raised in a Jewish orphanage where experiments with radiation were performed on the children, years later finds herself nurse for the doctor who carried out the "treatments." Rachel has had many issues in her difficult life, but this ma
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RoseMary Achey
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing




When Rachel Rabinowitz is four years old a tragedy befalls her family and she and her older brother are sent to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. Rachel remains at the Asylum until age 15.

The Hebrew Orphan Asylum was one of the best known and most generously endowed American orphanages. Between 1860 and 1919, some 13,500 children were admitted to the home. Few children, however, were adopted, since most were actually half-orphans, members of a family which one parent (usually the father) ha
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MissSusie
I didn’t feel like either the current or past storyline was fleshed out enough, at times it felt disjointed and I think it was because of not knowing enough about the characters. However I did find the story fascinating I never knew anything about these test done at orphanages’ also after reading some stories on the authors website I really wish she would have went deeper into these characters I feel like she just brushed the surface and I wish I knew more.

I hated the “romance” aspect of this bo
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Sarah
Sep 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
29/9 - This is very interesting, but a bit hard to read, thinking about doctors literally experimenting on disadvantaged children because it's interesting and because they can (due to the lack of a need for parental consent for orphans) is disturbing for me. The damage these X-rays do to the children, in the short and long term is horrifying to read about. While this is a fictional story, it reads very much like a descendant's account of their family member's real life experience. It doesn't fee ...more
Debbie
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: debs-books, ebooks
This was not the book that I was expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be kind of creepy. Well, way more creepy. But just because my expectations were not met does not mean I did not enjoy the book. It was more nonfiction with fiction thrown in here and there. It was informative, heartbreaking, eye opening, sad, emotional and compelling.

Orphans were being used as mice for experiments. While this story was a little extreme, it brought out the fact that this was commonplace back in the 1920's
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Nayla Feghaly
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Such an intense, emotional particular story ! I enjoyed every page of this book. The build up of the characters is so good that you can sympathize with each one of them. The book tackles different taboo subjects.
The book cover is so expressive!
Highly recommended !
Rebecca
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I shouldn't be, but I am flabbergasted that the majority of the 1- and 2-star reviews this book received seem to be solely based on the reviewers' discomfort with the fact they were forced to sympathize with a lesbian -- had the book's description, or the first few chapters, made clear the main character's sexual orientation, they would never have been forced to read explicit scenes about two women kissing. (Imagine!) But no, the author cleverly sucked them in before unleashing her "politi ...more
Virginia Myers
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was a disappointment to me. Reading the publisher's description did not prepare me for the lifestyle of the primary character and I had problems maintaining an interest in the pages containing a discussion of this part of her life.

On the other hand, the discussion of Rachel's early life did educate me about a part of medical history that I had not encountered before. And one of my goals in reading is to learn something from my reading experience. It is my understanding, from the book,
...more
Stephanie Anze
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it
When Sam and Rachel Rabinowitz are suddenly orphaned, they are taken to the Jewish childrens home. Being older, Sam goes into a different home than Rachel. What already was a traumatic experience takes a harsher turn when Rachel is chosen as "material" for research and needlessly exposed to radiation. Years later, Rachel is a nurse in a Jewish geriatric home. On one of her shifts, Rachel is shocked to learn that her new patient is none other than the doctor that experimented on her. Dealing with ...more
megan
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I began Orphan #8 as a book club read - only knowing it was historical fiction about Jewish orphans and medical experiments. It's really more of a psychological coming of age story, that just happens to be set in the past. And it would seem that from the description on the back cover, modern readers would find little in common with a Jewish orphan girl exploited in the name of science. Yet, van Alkemade brings us a story of abandonment, betrayal, revenge, love, hope - set in a society with issue ...more
Erin
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Possible spoilers related to character.


She had said there was no comparison between her work at the Infant Home and those terrible experiments in the camps,and she was right, of course she was. But did the children on Dr. Menegle's table feel any differently than I did on hers? No matter her motives, the way she used us was the same. No wonder she couldn't apologize. It would destroy a person, wouldn't it, to admit to doing that kind of harm?

Author Kim van Alkemade's historical fiction debut,
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Anna
An intriguing story based on historical facts and drawn from the author's family history. The story shifts between Rachel as an adult in the 1950's and Rachel as a child in the 1920's. Following a tragedy, Rachel Rabinowitz finds herself, and her brother Sam, placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan. The two are separated, and Rachel is placed in the Infant Home. It is there that she finds herself subjected to medical experimentation for the purpose of research. Vying for a place in a man ...more
Denise
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing


Orphan #8 is a chilling, moving, thought provoking historical novel. This first novel by Kim van Alkemade engaged me from the first page. There are numerous themes ( surviving in an orphanage, medical experiments on children, the elimination of Jews in WWII, revenge, relationships, mercy killing etc.) cleverly woven throughout this novel. The author introduces us to a four year old Rachel and we follow her life until 1954 where her past collides with her present day self. This book demands that
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Megan
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
At least it's a quick read. The moral dilemma highlighted in the blurb on the back cover is almost nonexistent. I expected the story to focus on Rachel's confrontation with the doctor who experimented on her, but their relationship occupies only a handful of the 300+ pages. Rachel's arguments and anger with her abuser are thin and flimsy, and she is easily dismissed by the doctor. Her emotional and logical reactions are uninteresting and certainly do not warrant a book. This novel is really abou ...more
Melissa
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by a good friend who is also an avid reader. I will definitely be taking more book recommendations from her!

I was very impressed by the amount of research done in order to bring this story and all the characters to life. I felt transported to the early half of the 20th century and imagined how Rachel must have been feeling throughout her experiences growing up and even when she was my age. Her fear, anger, frustration, desire for acceptance, etc.; her emotions fel
...more
Janice
I loved this book; it was a wonderfully engaging story, and was based on actual historic events. I knew nothing about the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, or the experimental medical treatments inflicted on children in this country. The story about Rachel Rabinowitz alternates between her childhood days in the orphanage, and her life as a young-mid aged adult, when she is working as a nurse. In many ways Rachel was lucky, but her life also holds much trauma and tragedy. The author included a few notes at t ...more
Erika
I felt like there was too much going on here, and some of it was just confusing. I understand wanting to grapple with the different issues, and it is a true story, but it was convoluted to me which took away from what really was a beautiful story.
Kelly
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A Tense Psychological Thriller Tempered With a Heartrending Coming-of-Age Story

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including illicit human experimentation. Also, this review contains a plot summary with minor spoilers.)

The question sounded strange in the present tense. I used to think that orphaned was something I'd been as a child and since outgrown. It occurred to me, though, that was exactly how I'd been feeli
...more
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Kim van Alkemade was born in New York City and spent her childhood in suburban New Jersey. Her late father, an immigrant from the Netherlands, met her mother, a descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, in the Empire State Building. She attended college in Wisconsin, earning a doctorate in English from UW-Milwaukee. She is a professor at Shippensburg University where she teaches writing. H ...more
“I was so used to pretending to be something I wasn't, it shocked me to be seen for what I was.” 5 likes
“If good only came to those who deserved it, the world would be a bleak place. In” 3 likes
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