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.
Joanna is the author of four previous novels, including The Finishing School, You Made Me Love You and Harmony. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Ottawa Citizen, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review.
Originally from Montreal, Joanna now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, and is at work on her sixth novel. She is also the owner of a well-known Toronto linen store, Au Lit Fine Linens.
Joanna Goodman does not shy away from focusing on some controversial things that happened in Canada’s history in this moving novel. She presents the divide between English and French in Quebec in the 1950’s both from a family perspective as well as a societal one.
“Much like the province in which she lives, where the French and English are perpetually vying for the upper hand, her family also has two very distinct sides.”
“The Eastern Townships is mostly farm country, containing pockets of both French and English who live in relative harmony — that is, relative to Quebec, where the French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility but don’t mingle the way other more homogeneous communities do.”
But of course, they do mingle. Maggie ‘s father is English and her mother is French. Although her father forbids her to see the French boy from the neighboring farm, she does and finds herself pregnant at fifteen. I had mixed feelings while reading the first part of the novel as it felt too YA with this forbidden teen age romance. But then I was captivated when the narrative alternates with an orphan named Elodie, the child that Maggie was forced to give up at birth. Elodie’s story unfolds and we learn of the awful things that happened to thousands of orphans. The Catholic Church who ran many orphanages, in collaboration with the Catholic premier Maurice Duplessis, designate the orphanages as psychiatric institutions in order to obtain increased government funding. The orphans were declared mentally ill or mentally deficient, were denied any education, and endured horrible treatment in many cases. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duple...) It reminded me in some ways of orphan trains in the US and how some children under the guise of being adopted became free labor or how women could be committed to mental asylums just because a husband or father claimed them to insane.
In addition to the divides between the English and the French, there are family rifts. There are rifts between husband and wives, father and daughter, but there are also enduring bonds. I found the story to be heartbreaking as a mother and daughter hope for a reunion over the years. That this is based in part on the author’s mother’s story and that true events are portrayed made this an even more meaningful read for me.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Harper Perennial through Edelweiss.
This story ripped my heart out. It made me angry, hopeful, frustrated. It had me rooting for these characters, holding my breath and crossing my fingers for a positive outcome. It exhausted me emotionally (in the best way possible). Simply stated – I adored this book!
This novel revolves around Maggie Hughes who, at fifteen, becomes pregnant and is forced by her parents to give her baby daughter, Elodie, up. We follow Maggie through years of separation from and longing for Elodie, where each and every day is haunted by thoughts as to where Elodie is and what kind of life she could be living.
I loved Maggie! Her character touched my heart in so many ways. The author, Joanna Goodman, does an impeccable job creating such vivid, real and relatable characters. I was drawn into their lives and situations, questioning my own thoughts and feelings several times along the journey. The book unravels through two perspectives, Maggie and Elodie, each adding a beautiful layer of emotion and intrigue. I loved them both and thought the novel flowed seamlessly and at the perfect pace.
To find out that this story was based on the author’s mother made it even more powerful for me. I look forward to reading more from this author!
This touching novel was a Traveling Friends read. To find this review, along with the other Traveling Sister reviews, please visit our blog at:
THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS by JOANNA GOODMAN was such a moving, heart-wrenching, and riveting historical fiction novel that had quite the emotionally gripping story. This book literally crushed me and made me feeling so many different emotions while reading it.
Some of the subject matter and historical facts that was focused on here in this novel was absolutely unconscionable and had me so angry. Being from Canada there were some events that I was aware of but some that I wasn’t and it was definitely an eye-opening experience for me reading this novel. I really enjoyed reading and learning a part of our history that I wasn’t aware of.
JOANNA GOODMAN delivers an intriguing, beautifully written and suspenseful read here with complex and well-developed characters. The story is told from alternating points of view between that of Maggie who was forced to give up her child at the age of 15 and Elodie her daughter who grew up in an orphanage. I was thoroughly taken by both of these emotional perspectives equally and was so hoping that mother and daughter would once again be reunited.
Learning that this book was based on the author’s mother just made this story even more thought-provoking, touching and heartbreaking. This was definitely an emotionally tough book for me to read but regardless an excellent one.
Norma’s Stats: Cover: Eye-catching, appealing, and immediately had me intrigued. An extremely fitting representation to storyline. Title: Intriguing, sad, fits the story so well and love how it plays so meaningfully into the story. Writing/Prose: beautiful, engaging, and empathically written. Plot: Provocative, captivating, steady-paced, held my attention and extremely enjoyable. Ending: Hopeful, touching, and satisfying. Overall: A fantastic, emotional, important, memorable, and heartfelt read! Would highly recommend!
When I saw that beautiful, intriguing and haunting cover I knew I had to read this one. Just looking at the cover brought on some emotion. Not really knowing what the story was about it did take me a while to finally read it, but I have to say that it worked out well because when I did read this one the timing was perfect. We read this one in our Traveling Friends Goodreads Reading group. This one made for a really great and interesting discussion amongst us. So much to talk about with this story and we really appreciated being able to discuss this one together.
The Home for Unwanted Girls is a compelling and heartbreaking family saga that focuses on historical events and a scandal in a Canadian province of Quebec. It's not something that I think is well known and Joanna Goodman who was inspired by her Mother digs into some history here with some hostilities between French and English speaking Canadians.
Along with the hostilities that divided French and English speaking Canadians, Joanna Goodman brings to light a dark time in Quebec's past and one of the darkest scandals involving money and religion. Through one of our main characters here with Elodie, we are shown the cruelty, abuse and conditions orphans lived in while under the care of nuns. Goodman gives a voice to the victims of this scandal through Elodie, allowing us to feel so many emotions for them while reading this story. It also allowed us to learn something we haven't heard of before.
We were immediately drawn into the complex and intriguing side of the family saga with Maggie and her family's story and decisions that were forced on her by her family, leaving us with so much to discuss. We question their decisions and reasons and tried to understand the different sides we were shown. At the final discussion, we used the questions provided by the publisher and that really gave us so much to think about and discuss really enhancing our discussion.
We highly recommend this story to everyone who loves historical fiction based on real events. We also highly recommend to reading groups as there is just so much to discuss with this one. We do want to offer a caution here because of the abuse and there are some upsetting conditions to this story.
Why I chose to read this book: 1. inspired by real events, it's a historical fiction set in Canada that my sister really enjoyed; and, 2. July 1st is Canada Day, so I'm dedicating July as my "Canadian Authors Month"!
Praises: 1. I learned about another dark corner of Canada's past! 😠 During the 1950s, Quebec's premier, Maurice Duplessis, had the province's orphanages converted into mental hospitals in order to receive more federal funding, thereby affecting 5000 children. Instead of receiving proper care and education, they were then labelled as "crazy" and "retarded". These children were regularly drugged to "calm" them and received abuse at all levels, leading some children to an early death. Also, during this time period, parents lost all rights to reclaim illegitimate children, while "selling" babies to prospective adoptive parents was a common practice. This story also portrayed the strong animosity between English-speaking and French Canadians (still common in many parts of Canada today); 2. the character that I really warmed to was Elodie. I sympathized with her helplessness in the horrific situations that she was put into throughout her life. I only wish a larger focus of this story was about her; and, 3. although the ending was predictable, it was quite touching.
Niggles: 1. I experienced mass confusion throughout this story! I felt that there were too many pointless storylines (e.g. Maggie's rape, her father's lover; the endless descriptions about horticulture) and unnecessary characters (e.g. Uncle Yvon; Clementine; Georgette). Also, Maggie's loyalties towards her parents bewildered me. Even though he's written as a "good guy", her father does some despicable things and comes across as extremely arrogant, despising his wife because of her culture!?! When Maggie , she blames her mother for it! Yet when her mother pours out her heart, apologizing to Maggie for not believing her about her rape, Maggie refuses to forgive her; and, 2. characterization - except for Elodie, I could somewhat relate to a few characters' situations, but I just couldn't connect or even sympathize with them. Their intense bitterness and animosity towards others was too over-the-top to seem believable, whereas Maggie and Gabriel's romance felt immature, convenient, and (alas) boring.
Overall Thoughts: I liked it, but I wanted to love it! I wanted tears streaming down my face! Nope! Nothing! Except for a good Canadian history lesson and sympathy for Elodie, I felt this story had too much focus on the wrong characters and a lot of questionable motives and plot lines. Since I own the sequel The Forgotten Daughter, I will read that one next.
Recommendation? If you like a historical romance that's a quick and easy read while learning something about Canadian history, then check out this story.
3.5 An emotional roller coaster of a journey, a young fifteen year old mother, Maggie forced to give up her newborn daughter. We follow Maggies journey, her life, and eventually her struggle to find and reunite with her daughter. Elodie, in an orphanage, finds harshness, but never outright cruelty, and even kindness from one of the sisters. This will change, when the orphanages are turned into mental institutions, and the unwanted children are now deemed mentally ill. Now her life is one of hardship, outright cruelty, so hard to read what happened to these children and at the hands of sisters who were supposed to show Christian mercy and acceptance. Unconsciousable!
Although this takes place in Quebec, similar misjustices were also perpetrated in other countries. So incredibly sad and disheartening. All the things women have gone through in the past, the misjudgment of the churches, the harm they caused. Not just the churches though, the harsh judgement and non caring atmosphere of society in general. This book tore at my heart, but also made me angry. I often wonder if people who can treat the innocents so cruely ever find it hard to live with themselves? I hope so but somehow I doubt it.
Maggie Hughes is the 15-year old daughter of an English speaking Canadian father and a French mother living in Quebec. Despite her father’s admonishments to not cavort with French boys, Maggie’s young heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix, the young and impoverished boy living at the adjacent farm. When she ends up pregnant, her parents force her to give up her baby but before she’s taken away, Maggie implores them to name her Elodie. That fortuitous moment provides the only means by which she can later embark on a journey to perhaps find the daughter she reluctantly gave up for adoption. Unfortunately, Elodie is never adopted from the Home for Unwanted Girls, an orphanage run by nuns, which later changes to a mental hospital to receive more government funding. All the orphans are accordingly declared mentally ill.
Maggie and Elodie are the narrators and the story shifts between the two, often in parallel time frames. I found it an interesting contrast as Maggie moves on with her life but never forgetting the child she lost and Elodie never giving up hope that her mother would attempt to find her. Both of their lives were troubled but none more than Elodie who suffered terribly at the hands of the nuns, one in particular.
The story also exposed the ethnic divide between the English speaking citizens and the French. It was particularly awful to witness Maggie’s father’s hypocrisy against the French given his own wife’s and children’s heritage. Also, it was a political decision that forced the orphanages to become psychiatric hospitals without any real consideration of the fates of those children who were then declared mentally ill. These are true events in Canadian history that I found educational.
This was also a Traveling Friends group read and the discussion was so rich. Thanks to that insightful group of women for making this an even more remarkable reading experience.
I really enjoyed this story for the fictional aspects as well as the historical context, beginning in the 1950s. Maggie’s quest to find her daughter was frustrating and heartbreaking and Elodie’s never ending hope that she would find her family was what almost brought me to tears. Both women’s triumph in the midst of adversity was so admirable. Saskia Maarleveld was extraordinary in her narration, handling accents with perfection (as least to my ear) and making the characters come to life. I highly recommend the audio version and this story. It wasn’t always light but it was always honest. 4.5 stars
Two things drew me to this book: location and time. I grew up in Montreal and I was born 5 years after Elodie, so was a very young child when this true historical atrocity was occurring. I never knew anything about this, so was definitely interested in learning about it. Briefly, this story is told from 2 viewpoints- Maggie and her daughter Elodie, whom she had to give up for adoption. Interesting fact of the time- This was 1950 and a woman was not allowed to keep an illegitimate child. This of course shows the stronghold the Catholic Church had over Quebec at that time. The Church and the government were very closely tied together! These children were sent to an orphanage “Home for Unwanted Girls” which was run by nuns. It wasn’t too bad till these homes were turned into mental institutions. Every orphan was deemed mentally incompetent and they had to stay and live with the real “crazies”and do their care. (not a spoiler- in book blurb). What happened to these children was unbelievable and heartbreaking. All this was done for one thing and one thing only-money! Appalling. What drew me most in this book was Elodie and her story The other aspect of the book that I found so true was the animosity between the French and the English at that time. I can definitely attest to that. As a child (I am Italian, but I went to English schools) I was taunted by French children and I remember my brother being beaten up for coming to my defence. I was trying to remember when that changed but I am not sure, but I know it did for the most part. The author has written a poignant story of a mother in search of the daughter she gave away and a daughter’s search for freedom and a possibility of a family!
I don’t get it. This book had such a high rating so I expected so much more from it. I found it to be a monumental letdown.
It starts with a young teenager (Maggie) who falls in love with someone (Gabriel) that her parents do not approve of. They send her away to stay with her aunt and uncle to get her away from him. She finds out she’s pregnant and eventually gives birth to Elodie who is stolen from Maggie and sent to an orphanage.
I listened to it in audiobook form so I’m not 100% sure if it was the writing or the narration that sounded juvenile, but I suspect it was a bit of both. The narrator’s inflections and tone just sounded very childish in some places and I found that to be very grating. That said, there were also parts of the book that felt as though they had been written by a teenager. The love story between Maggie and Gabriel is the prime example of this. Every detail of how it was written just seemed far too convenient for something that was meant to be historically accurate. I found the entire book to be very cliche and seemed to be written by someone who really didn’t have a lot of knowledge about anything - not love, or child birth, or reality.
The rape by her uncle was wasted words and nothing more than filler. And her entire marriage was almost laughable. She can carry babies only by Gabriel? Just wraps it all up nicely so there’s no need to tackle anything more difficult than a fluffy little romance.
It wasn’t even edited well. At one point, Maggie’s father called her husband Roger. His name was Roland. I think this is where I gave up all hope for this one.
Overall, the story of Elodie was intriguing and I did enjoy that part but not enough to give this anything more than 2 stars.
I recently read Before We Were Yours and I can’t even describe how incredible that book was. I went into this one hoping for the same. But this was the B version of that. If you read Harry Potter and then tried to read Twilight, you will understand this analogy. This book was the Twilight version.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I wanted to read this book because I thought it would be an informative historical novel that focused on a shameful, inhumane part of Quebec history. I realize that many praised this novel, and reviews are mixed. I found it a poorly structured, melodramatic story with unpleasant characters and inconsistent behaviour. There was an unnecessary emphasis on sex, rape, adultery, and it reminded me of a cheap romance story centering on lust rather than love. I thought the story favoured the English over the French and took a dim view of the Catholic Church and its influence on society. The nuns were portrayed poorly. I wish my reaction to this book wasn't so negative, and upset that I bought a French version of this book as a gift for my daughter-in-law in Quebec, and it didn't work for me as a historical novel.
The premise was a good one. I believed it would focus on the conditions in the orphanages in the 1950s when they were transformed into mental asylums to obtain more government funding. This doesn't happen until about 30% into the book. Up to this point, I felt we got far too much drama about Maggie. We get lots of family drama, adultery, illicit sex and Maggie, age 15, eagerly having sex in the cornfield with Gabriel, a poor French neighbour. There is some emphasis on seeds, which I assume was symbolic of something. I was bored with Maggie's story and thought her background and tribulations should have been condensed.
Maggie's English father disapproved of his daughter's obsession with Gabriel, so her family sent her to live with relatives. Maggie discovered she was pregnant and unsure the child was Gabriel's as she had been raped while staying with her aunt and uncle. Her parents forced her to give up the baby. She marries a decent businessman and lives comfortably, but never stops obsessing about Gabriel and their lost daughter, Elodie. Later, she meets Gabriel while both are married to others. They have a short affair, break up in anger, and finally reconcile years later when they are both divorced and begin to search for Elodie.
We see the horrible repercussions that orphanages' change in classification to mental asylums had on the children through Elodie's perspective. These unfortunate orphans were designated either mentally deficient or insane.
When Elodie was age 4, the orphanage children could play with friends and had toys and education. She was fairly content because she knew no other life. When she was 7, everything changed. The orphanage was declared a mental hospital. The orphans became patients and were falsely classified as mentally deficient or insane. Discipline was unfair and extremely harsh. Children were drugged, chained, put in straight jackets, even given lobotomies to control behaviour. Education was stopped. Instead, the children were made to do manual labour around the facility. Toys were taken away, and no games were permitted. Elodie feared a villainous nun who took pleasure in mental and physical torture and considered the orphans the result of sin.
Next, we skip to a time Elodie was 14 and treated like a slave working long hours sewing sheets and pillowcases. Male guards sexually harassed her. At age 17, she was released into society with no education or knowledge of the outside world, fearful and ill-prepared, and suffering from trauma.
Maggie had been told that her daughter had died, and Elodie was informed that her mother was dead. Much of the files and paperwork were falsified or destroyed. Gabriel and Maggie now have two other children but are searching for Elodie or what happened to her while imprisoned. Will Elodie ever forgive her parents for her horrible childhood? Will they be successful in finding her?
I believe the Duplessie Orphans would make an interesting historical novel. This, unfortunately, was not it for me. If you are looking for a romance between star-crossed lovers you might enjoy all the drama. I regret I cannot recommend it as a historical novel.
Set in rural Quebec in the 1950's The Home For Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman, is an incredibly well-written novel that is not a true story but is based on real life events. The author depicts a shameful part of Canadian history when the children of unmarried women were thought to bear sin, were sent to orphanages and then to asylum's because the nuns running these institutions were paid more to care for the mentally ill. Maggie Hughes is a teenage girl with an English father and a French mother. She falls in love with a French boy and faces an unwanted pregnancy at 15. She is forced to give up her newborn daughter Elodie who is sent to an orphanage. As Elodie's story unfolds her horrific experience and perspective is brought to light. Elodie's only wish is to be reunited with her mother, the mother that has been searching for her since the day she was born and taken away. An incredible story, beautifully written. The realities of our Canadian history are explained in detail heartbreakingly so! This story had me on such an emotional roller coaster that I couldn't put it down.
I am sorry but this wasn't a great book. Way to melodramatic. The love story (lust story) of Maggie and Gabriel was terrible and never fully developed. It read like a cheesy romance novel. I would have liked more story about their child and less about them. I gave up half way through. Too many other books on my list that I would rather be reading to waste my time on this one.
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman. A sad but wonderfully written book about a young girl unwed and pregnant in the 50s. Such a taboo. Her family shipped her off before she knew she was pregnant. She wouldn't stay away from the boy of her dreams. Once she is with her aunt and uncle her uncle had his way with her. She did not know who the father was. Shipped off to a home after her baby is given up. The state homes turn into mental hospitals. She reunites with the boy who is now a man. And the story goes on.
Re-read for book club 2019: I went with the audio version this time. I didn't get as emotionally invested with the narrated version as I did with the hardback. Great book all the same!
Original review 2018: Drama drama drama drama drama drama drama drama DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMA! This book was filled with it. I can't even begin to describe all the craziness that is in these pages. It was all unraveled at such a great pace with such lovely writing. My only real regret for this book was how rushed the ending felt. I think this could have used another 75 pages and an EPIC epilogue. For that........ a star has fallen.
Another shocking page from the Roman Catholic Church’s history of genocide!
Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec from 1944 to 1959, and the Roman Catholic Church, Duplessis’ partner in fraud, corruption, child abuse and sexual assault, have a great deal to answer for.
Joanna Goodman’s THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is the heartbreaking, shocking, gripping, disgusting (and yet, somehow, still heartwarming and touching) tale of one woman’s search for the illegitimate daughter that she was forced by her parents, her society, her government and the misogynistic religious demands of her church to abandon to the ministrations of an orphanage system run by the nuns. And, if that wasn��t bad enough, Duplessis, during what is now called La Grande Noirceur (the Grand Darkness), arbitrarily designated these orphanages as homes for the mentally ill, locked down asylums if you will, in order to defraud the federal government of a higher level of per capita funding. For many children in these orphanages, that change simply meant the doors were locked, the key was thrown away and adoption was moved from a remote likelihood to an impossibility.
Based in part on the story of the author’s mother, THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is the fictionalized version of English-speaking Maggie Hughes’ pregnancy at age 15; the forced separation from her French-speaking boyfriend, Gabriel Phénix; the illegitimate daughter’s placement in an orphanage, subsequently converted to a home for the mentally ill; and the mother and daughter’s quest of almost two decades to find one another.
I want to thank author Joanna Goodman for the opportunity to read what will not only rank as one of my all time favourite books but to learn about a piece of Canadian history of which I was totally unaware. As if the Roman Catholic Church’s genocidal participation in aboriginal residential schools wasn’t enough. Then we have the cover-up of the nuns and priests involved in the ongoing and only recently uncovered child abuse and sexual assault scandal. And now I’m shocked to discover that the Vatican has this to add to their list of crimes. I’ve reached the point where I can only suggest that ANY person who attends a Roman Catholic Church and makes a contribution to their coffers via the collection plate must accept complicity in these ugly crimes. The Roman Catholic Church MUST be made to answer for them.
And if you are a Canadian who enjoys wonderfully well-written, absorbing historical fiction, you MUST read THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS. Brava to Joanna Goodman.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is unique and the fact that it is based on true events of 1940s and 1950s Quebec makes it especially disturbing. While it’s not an easy read, it’s definitely worth picking up.
This is an emotional book about the orphanages in Canada during the 1950s and 60’s, when they were turned into asylums and all the orphans were suddenly considered crazy or mentally defective. This was a purely economic decision, since the Catholic orphanages were not profitable, but the asylums were. A government leader, Duplessis enacted this law and pocketed some of the profits. The children were horribly mistreated and abused while in the care of the nuns, many of whom believed that the children deserved this mistreatment because they were the product of the sins of their parents.
Maggie Hughes is 15 years old and pregnant by a boy her parents don’t like. They force her to give up her daughter, Elodie, who is then placed in an orphanage. The story alternates between telling Maggie’s story and Elodie’s story. Maggie never stops yearning for her daughter, as well as never stops living the boy she had to leave. Elodie is terribly mistreated and abused while in the care of the nuns. Both characters are powerfully portrayed and you are always sympathetic to both of them. Other characters, although well portrayed also, are not as sympathetic, especially Sister Ignatia, who is just evil. I don’t want to get into too much detail so as not to give away any spoilers.
If you enjoy historical fiction, and can handle some of the more painful aspects of this story, then I definitely recommend this book.
Maggie Harper lives in a rural community in Quebec during the 1950s. Her father is English and her mother is French. Their marriage is complicated and not particularly happy. Her father runs a Seed Store, and Maggie dreams of one day running it herself. But when she falls in love with the poor French farm boy next door, her parents do not approve. When Maggie becomes pregnant at fifteen, she is forced to give the baby up for adoption. Her daughter, Elodie, is sent to an orphanage and was well taken care of and educated for the first seven years of her life. Things change dramatically when the Quebec government and the Catholic Church determine there is more funding available for psychiatric hospitals, and Elodie along with thousands of other orphans are declared to be mentally ill. Elodie is then transferred to a hospital in Montreal, where she is abused and terrified by the nun in charge of her Ward. Told through alternating voices of Maggie and Elodie, their yearning to find one another is heart wrenching. What Elodie experienced was horrifying and tragic, and brought to life a piece of history I was unfamiliar with. My favorite quote: "The feelings inside her are too good, unfamiliar. There's sadness, too, of course. This she accepts as the most natural, inevitable aspect of her life. Sadness lives in her cells, alongside her sense of injustice and outrage toward Sister Ignatia and God. These things cannot be transcended. They are as much a part of her being as her limbs and her organs and Nancy. But tonight there's something else: hope."
Background: The Home for Unwanted Girls sheds light on the Duplessis orphans( named so after Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis( 1936-1939 & 1944-1959), 20,000 children who were victimized by the Quebec government and the Catholic Church when they were falsley certified as mentally ill and confined to mental insitutions. By the 1990's, records revealed many had been subjected to electroshock, a variety of drug testing and used in other medical experiements as well as suffering sexual and physical abuse.
You live in a home for unwanted girls because you were born in sin and your mother could not keep you. Chapter 12
In this historical fiction, Joanna Goodman unravels this dark period of Quebec history through the eyes of heartbroken mother, Maggie Hughes and Elodie, the baby girl that Maggie is forced to give up in the 1950's. The novel takes readers from the Eastern Townships to Montreal during the 1950s- 1970s and over this twenty year period both Maggie and Elodie will struggle to find one another again.
We are now a mental hospital. There's no more orphanage and no more orphans. From this day forward, you are all mentally retarded. Chapter 15
Dear future readers, no doubt if you read it, there will be times that you will fluctuate between anger, sadness, and much frustration. I sure know that I did.
One of the best reads of 2019 for me and perhaps one of the best Canadian historical fiction novels that I have read in recent years.
I have now officially read a girly -romance novel. Silly me! I thought this was a serious work about orphans in Quebec in the 1950’s. Because the Church ran the orphanages, they changed the orphanages into asylums because they were paid a per diem of 100% more. The orphans were declared insane and treated as such for many years.
Maggie at sixteen has an illegitimate child. Her parents force her to give up the child at its birth. The book see-saws back and forth between mother and child.
The book is an OK read. There is a thread which references big shoulders and trembling hands amidst the waving fields of fecund corn. And there’s loving daddy and the dreadful mama. He’s English. She’s French.
If you’re marooned somewhere and there are only two books, and the other is in Mandarin, read this. You might also use the subject matter as a source for a good novel should you be an aspiring novelist.
Trends... I don’t know if it is me, but I’m feeling as though publishers are offering a lot of COMPELLING, HIDDEN IN THE PAST, SHOCKING, TRUE STORY of.... these days...
Are we so hooked on reality TV or the old Apprentice host that we need all of those headlines?
Or are these kinds of stories grabbing publishers’ attentions simply because they know we will be shocked to know how power has been so meanly abused barely a century ago, almost where we could be living ourselves - over us, a friend or a neighbour? Not at some border.... No. But in the course of trying to get through a hard stage of life.
BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate is the most recognizable of these kinds of novels. It takes place in Mississippi in the 1930s, when an unwed mothers State Home operator and her cohort, the Adoption Agency, set up shop looking for as many pretty blonde blue eyed babies they could find in addition to the ones actually arriving in need of Home services. (I reviewed it on my page).
I admit to being more greatly captivated by THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS, by Joanna Goodman.
The authors’s writing styles are actually quite similar, each developing character thoroughly as possible in what would have been their real life situations and carefully threading history into the personal story which is the essential fabric of the life of the story.
Still, I found the Quebec, Canada circumstances especially fascinating. As I followed the plight of the families, I was equally enthralled in Goodman’s very thorough treatment of the pertinent history.
From the stories of Maggie, the young mom who lost her babe Elodie,moving on to the diabolical mess of the Quebec orphanage system, to Gabriel the young father and the intervening years when Elodie’s story takes precedence, the novel begins to tragically meld and then a builds to a frantic urgency. I wondered when, if, how, this will end...
A great tale, very well supported by the facts - and well written enough to inspire further research.
The facts led me to further dig into the history of what are known as the “Duplessis Orphans”. Further background leads belief that some very powerful psychiatric drugs, only in their testing stages, were used on those children as well. This jibes with the author’s narratives.
Goodman, I think, has done a good job on opening the door on a really horrific period I knew nothing about.
I was a wee child in Quebec, Canada with my family, part of which would have been during Duplessis’ terms as provincial leader. I recall how the Catholic Church and Duplessis were always spoken of with a kind of a sneer - I was only very little!
What came to pass in Quebec did and could, because Duplessis exerted a totally different sort of power in government than in the rest of Canada. He had pulled power from the Catholic Church which had held sway since the 1600s, put them to work in the social services areas of health and education at low wages, and then saved his government massive expenditures. . “A modernizer except in political methodology, Duplessis perfected the techniques of the past in exalting the Québec state to an unprecedented position of strength in relation to the church, the federal government and the Anglo-Saxon Montréal business establishment. His system depended upon employing the clergy at bargain wages to do what was really secular work in schools and hospitals, while reducing the episcopate to financial dependence; reducing taxes, balancing budgets and persuading the conservatives and nationalists to vote together (for "autonomy" as he called it).
I like historical fiction well treated by its factual structure, especially when its significant theme is central. Joanna Goodman has done a standout job out here.
Goodman is masterful at characterisation as well. Each individual is sketched in powerful contrast to the other, and the force of their personalities surprisingly moved years in handfuls of pages, as I eagerly read on. Suddenly, Élodie was praying to be let out after Duplessis’s death while a smirking nun is lying about her dead mother; nearby, her mother Maggie finds evidence in her dead dad’s store of the adoption and a place to start to look...
****************************************************************** Numbers vary but it is around 20,000 children who were essentially incarcerated. The government admitted that a third didn’t need to be there, and gave them a very small settlement. ******************************************************************* Duplessis died in 1959. A Quiet Revolution occurred in the 1960s which completely secularised government. ********************************************************************* Writing 4 strong stars Unique 5 strong stars Research, background 5 strong stars So... 4.9
Audiobook read by Saskia Maarleveld .... 9 hours and 59 minutes
There are over 1000 reviews written, so I’m not going to add another one other than to say I fall into the camp of those who gave it a four or five star rating. It’s a a compelling engaging book - choices made - consequences unfold - and moral questions are raised.
I enjoyed it. The story kept me engaged easily. In the last half of the book I thought it was a little sloggy...—is that a word? 😙... But mostly, the audiobook can easily be devoured like candy.
Oh, I have thoughts about which characters I wanted to punch in the belly from time to time.... but that’s what good books do — have us judging and evaluating different situations and scenarios.
4 stars from me! There are many wonderful reviews that will go further into detail about the plot, history, time period, the French and English strife, characters, etc.
Thank you to the many readers who came before me and GoodReads.... Your many great reviews convinced me that spending time with this book was worth it. It was!!!
This is an amazing story about people and families that rise from poverty and deal with incredible domestic problems in life. It’s based on a 1991 book about the miss treatment of infants in Quebec. Although it is fiction, many of the situations are exactly as they were found in those days and the names have been changed.
The book really touched my heart in many different ways but especially in the end. A good summary is, “never lose hope”.
Young love between Gabriel and Maggie with the harsh disapproval by Maggie’s father of Gabriel. Maggie and her father have a very special family bond, which will soon be horribly broken.
There is an underlying current of dissension between the English and the French Canadians (Quebec, Canada) and that those two tolerate each other but should not mingle. Ironically, Maggie’s English father married her French mother and it is, what we find out later, a marriage of lust, not of love and they both are bitter hearted.
Gabriel (French) and Maggie’s (French/English) relationship intensifies, much to her parents dismay and she is sent off to live with her uncle and aunt, who have their own set of problems and create more for Maggie.
Maggie becomes pregnant at the age of 15 with Gabriel’s child, and her parents, to save face for her future and their own reputation, force her to give up the child and not see him again.
The emotion level from here on gets kicked up a notch through all the next chapters. The baby is named Elodie and the sadness and betrayals and secrets are so painful - there are so many, and not just by one person.
I will not divulge any more of the story other than this: what Elodie goes through is horrendous. She is not adopted as a baby, but instead raised by nuns at an orphanage. She was getting an education and good self care. However, Due to a law granting more funding to psychiatric hospitals than the impoverished orphanages, the orphans were falsely deemed mentally ill and were transferred over and mixed in with the mentally retarded and mentally ill in a highly secure facility with psychotic drugging, punishment, strait-jacket torture, beatings, suspicious deaths, Physical and mental abuse and more. Elodie no longer was being educated and had no idea of what goes on in the outside world. She was merely existing and trying to survive; keeping her mouth shut and following the restrictive rules, trusting no one. It was so absolutely very sad what she had to endure for 17 years of her life. She has physical and mental scars from this. When she finally achieved her freedom, she was not prepared to cope with the world outside the facility walls and its stimulation but with the help of a kind nun and a friend/roommate, she starts making up for lost time, getting a job, learning about everything that was stifled in the facility. She also has a sexual encounter of which she is totally innocent and naive about which adds another element to the story.
In the meantime, Maggie begins a search for Elodie. More secrets, lies, betrayals, falsifying information, hiding information. Her father was behind a lot of this which he tells her was done for her own good. In her heart of hearts, she would often think of the child she signed away with the hope of one day finding her.
At the end, all the pieces and people connect. I think maybe the pieces fell into place a little too neatly/tidily or perhaps I was emotionally corrupted reading about the very wrong behaviors for 17 years in the mental facility that made it difficult for me to accept the positive ending. Because even now as I write this, Elodie’s personal story and the quest by Maggie to find her daughter, so many years later, are still stuck deep in my head. Elodie is messed up; will she be “normal” after what she’s gone though? She’s missed social and physical interactions with people. Can she forgive her mother, her father, her grandparents, the horrible nuns, nurses and doctors who were of no help to her and instead of listening to her, punished and drugged her to shut her up and make her complacent?
This is a very hard and emotional story and I am having a really difficult time with the acceptance and forgiveness parts. If it comes, it certainly is not going to happen overnight and the bad stuff just does not disappear and everyone lives happily ever after.
Was not a bad story at all but I honestly did not warm up to any of the characters except Elodie. Most of the other characters were not very likable. The writing was great but the characters I could not warm up to. I had pretty good expectations for this book because my grandmother said she loved it. But unfortunately the characters let me down for the most part.
My quick and simple overall: good story and worth a read.
This book is going to get people talking. Is it a riveting story about a horrible time in Canadian history? Yes. Does it deal with sensitive and emotional subject matter? Yes. Will it give readers a lot to talk about in their book clubs. Undoubtedly.
The story is told in alternating points of view of Maggie and Elodie, as they each struggle within the confines that society has placed on them in the hope that they'll be reunited with each other one day. But Goodman also incorporates other issues that permeated Quebec in the 1950's, like the blatant animosity between Anglophones and Francophones. But it was another event in Canada's history that hit me the hardest.
That event -- Quebec orphanages being turned into mental asylums merely for financial gain -- is one that I, embarrassingly, knew nothing about. Also showcased is the flagrant abuse of power of the Catholic church, the apathetic actions of the Quebec and federal governments as well as the swift and unwavering judgement by society which, together, lead to devastating consequences for thousands of young Quebec girls over the course of many years.
While this is a story about family bonds, loss and perseverance, it is also an eye-opening story about the abuse of power and a society whose judgement is more important than the welfare of its children. With issues like those, it's not surprising that this book has emotional scenes but, if I'm being honest, my feelings for the book faltered a bit towards the end. Around two-thirds of the way through I felt the book loses momentum and after all of the emotion and anguish throughout the book, the ending felt weaker than I was expecting.
Overall, this is a wonderful read that confronts a horrible time in our history within an emotional story that will bring lively and heated discussion to any book group.
3.5 stars ‘The Home for Unwanted Girls’ by Joanna Goodman is based upon a tragic occurrence in Canada’s history. Duplessis orphans were sent to mental institutions as their reclassification would provide higher subsidies. They were called Duplessis orphans because this occurred when Maurice Duplessis was premier of Quebec. A Catholic, “he put the schools, orphanages, and hospitals in the hands of religious orders, noting he "trusted them completely" (1). Doctors interviewed orphans and falsely documented mental illness. During the course of their stay in these institutions, drugs, especially Thorazine, which is widely used in the treatment of mental patients, was trialed on these children. Seven religious orders participated. Around 20,000 children were affected.
In our story, Maggie Hughes, who lives "55 miles southeast of Montreal" becomes pregnant. The father is next door neighbor, Gabriel Plenix, a French boy. Even though Maggie is half French herself (her mother is French, her father English), her father, Wellington Hughes deplores the French, thinking them of low ambition. At Maggie’s home, they speak French, but Wellington has made sure they attend English school. Wellington runs the seed store in town and is known as ‘The Seed Man.’ Maggie loves working in the store with her father. One of her driving ambitions in life is to one day run the store.
When Maggie becomes too involved with Gabriel, she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle. Her father tells her “you can do better than a French Canadian.” Maggie reminds him that he married a French Canadian. He tells her she must learn from his mistake. Even while at her Uncle’s house, she manages to sneak off and meet Gabriel. When it becomes known that she’s pregnant, her parents arrange for the baby’s adoption. At 16 years of age, Maggie does not resist them. Maggie insists upon naming her Elodie; her father acquiesces to her name choice. It is the name of a lily. Because Elodie is premature and has jaundice, the adoption falls through and she ends up in an orphanage.
The novel continues in alternating voices, Maggie’s and Elodie’s. This is a good story and well worth reading. It puts a face on the historical events and brings to life the value of the human lives that went through this ordeal. Even people in these religious orders become cogs in wheels, fulfilling the directives that have been passed on to them. At one point in the book, Goodman writes that one nun might have to take care of as many as fifty children. That’s an impossibility, as anyone who has ever taken care of children will easily recognize. Their actions however cannot be condoned. Elodie’s conditions were harsh. If rape and abuse are triggers for you, don’t read this book.
For me, it was the plot that carried this story. Maggie and Elodie’s characters are pretty well fleshed out and I can appreciate different facets of their personalities. Maggie’s father was the best described secondary character. Other secondary characters come across without depth. Gabriel has some depth at the beginning, much less during the second half of the book.
Goodman’s writing is good, but lacks depth. There are some emotional moments in the story; moments I’m brought almost to tears, but Goodman doesn’t crack them open. It’s the events that occur that bring the emotion, not the exquisite rendering of language that will sometimes fill me as an author brings forth nuggets of perception or nuances of feeling. I would definitely read Goodman again, as I really did like her story and believe her powers as an author will only grow.
This heartbreaking tale earns 5 stars from me. And I love that cover!
This is a relationship- and character-driven novel that I really enjoyed. Set in Quebec, It was interesting to learn more about the animosity between the French and English speaking communities here. The book centers on Maggie, a teenager who enjoys working in her father's seed/gardening store and aspires to run the store someday. Maggie's father has made the choice for his children to speak English and tells his children to stay away from the French-Canadians. Of course, Maggie falls in love with a poor French-speaking boy. What follows next is in some ways a classic tale, parents trying to do what they think is best for their child with unintended consequences.
I don't want to give more of the plot away, but I was shocked by several (historically accurate) twists that this story takes. Joanna Goodman had me rooting for a happy ending with her excellent writing and complex characters although some of the people in the book are downright despicable. At the end, we read that this was based on a true story. and I think that made it even more heart-breaking. I definitely learned about a new part of Canadian history and I'm wondering if there will be apologies someday.
Joanna Goodman has written four other books, but this is my first read. Based on how much I enjoyed this one, I'm planning to read those someday.
This was a fantastic book! One of those stories that grabs a hold of you from the start and doesn't let go. The writing, the plot, the character development, everything is superb!
The story focuses on Quebec orphanages that were converted into mental hospitals in the 1950's as a way for the government and church to make more money. At that time, orphanages, which were run by the church, were paid a small amount of money. Out of greed, the provincial government opted to change the orphanages into mental hospitals to qualify for Federal government funding, which significantly increased the amount of money for the church. As a result, orphans were deemed "mental patients" over night and subjected to horrendous abuse and torture, child labour, no education and even murdered. At the heart of this story are two families intertwined by love, loss and tragedy and affected by the social norms of the 1950's. The story is heartwrenching and tragic yet there's elements of hope and perseverance. It was honestly a book that I couldn't put down and one of my favorite reads this year.
If you're looking for an absorbing and emotional historical fiction, this is it! Such an unforgetable tale that will have you yearning, raging, hoping and maybe even shedding a few tears.
Joanna Goodman has written a beautiful novel containing the entire range of emotions experienced by the human heart.
The Home for Unwanted Girls tells the story of Quebec in the 1950s-1970s, but more specifically of Maggie, a young girl living in the Townships with an English-speaking father and French-speaking mother. At fifteen Maggie falls in love with the poor French boy from the next fair over. Under questionable circumstances, Maggie is forced to give up the child she becomes pregnant with. The story also follows Elodie, Maggie's daughter, who is raised in Quebec's highly fraught orphanage system. Under Duplessis, Quebec orphanages are turned into mental hospitals in order to receive more government funding and Elodie finds herself in a mental hospital, told she is insane, and abused by the nuns. Years later, Maggie is haunted by the baby she gave up, haunted by the man she left behind, and hungry to reconnect with both.
This book is the story of Maggie and Elodie, but also the chilling story of so many Quebec children who were abused at the hands of nuns and priests when they had no one to advocate for them. Goodman handles this heartbreaking topic with grace and skill. The heartbreaking exists alongside the heartwarming here, and rather than seek to "solve" this dark moment in Canadian history or gloss over it, Goodman unpacks it and sits with it, looking for hope amidst the ruins. The result is beautiful and at times breathtaking.
This is the story of a girl, of love, and of family. If you are a Canadian reader trying to read more Canadian books; this one is for you. If you want to learn more about one of the darker periods about Canadian history, but still leave the novel feeling hopeful; this one is for you. If you are a fan of historical fiction, sweeping family epics, or a beautifully written page turner that will rip your heart in two and then melt it back together; this one is for you. The heart wrenching beauty of this novel is not one that is easily done justice in a review: I suggest you go see for yourself.
My father's mother was raised in a convent by the Grey Nuns in 1940s and 1950s Montreal, first because her mother came to Montreal as a single mother with two young children in the '30s, and then because her mother remarried and my grandma was to get an education. She used to tell us stories about summers spent at the farm (the children were not allowed to go home over summer break) and that the nuns were "not nice sometimes." Now, when I have the knowledge to read between the lines of some of those statements, and even guess at what she went through, my grandmother suffers from Alzheimers and I am not able to get the real story from her. It is highly possible that my grandmother was one of the lucky ones and that the nuns were simply unkind sometimes and not abusive, but I will never really know the whole story. For many others, the story did not have nearly as happy an ending as my grandmother's did. My thanks to Joanna Goodman for returning a piece of my family puzzle to me, even if the edges are a bit frayed and murky.
*Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review*