In Shelley Wood’s fiction debut, readers are taken inside the devastating true story of the Dionne Quintuplets, told from the perspective of one young woman who meets them at the moment of their birth.
Reluctant midwife Emma Trimpany is just 17 when she assists at the harrowing birth of the Dionne quintuplets: five tiny miracles born to French farmers in hardscrabble Northern Ontario in 1934. Emma cares for them through their perilous first days and when the government decides to remove the babies from their francophone parents, making them wards of the British king, Emma signs on as their nurse.
Over 6,000 daily visitors come to ogle the identical “Quints” playing in their custom-built playground; at the height of the Great Depression, the tourism and advertising dollars pour in. While the rest of the world delights in their sameness, Emma sees each girl as unique: Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie, and Émilie. With her quirky eye for detail, Emma records every strange twist of events in her private journals.
As the fight over custody and revenues turns increasingly explosive, Emma is torn between the fishbowl sanctuary of Quintland and the wider world, now teetering on the brink of war. Steeped in research, Quintland™ is a novel of love, heartache, resilience, and enduring sisterhood—a fictional, coming-of-age story bound up in one of the strangest true tales of the past century.
Heartwarming and heartbreaking emotion. Brilliant and beautiful narration. Shocking and unforgettable detail.
This story is a stunning look into the lives of the world’s first quintuplets born in Callander, Ontario, Canada in 1934. Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie and Emilie Dionne shock their parents and the attending doctor and midwives on the day of their birth – five babies instead of one!?!? So tiny and frail, they are not expected to survive the night of their birth.
Emma Trimpany is seventeen-years-old when she accepts the request to accompany and assist the local midwife in attending a birth at the rundown Dionne farmhouse. This single decision changes her life forever, leaving her heart with a permanent longing and attachment to these five babies.
Days after their birth, in the confines of the rickety old farmhouse, the Dionnes’ learn that the government has decided to remove the quintuplets from their poverty-stricken parents, making them wards of the British king. Guardians are appointed and the babies are moved to a custom-built, sterile hospital to keep them safe and properly cared for by full time doctors and nurses. The quintuplets attain instant worldwide fame becoming a destination for six-thousand visitors per day in their custom-made playground observatory at the hospital. Through many ups and downs, Emma spends the next several years of her life dedicated to these five little girls who each uniquely own a piece of her heart.
This novel is skillfully narrated through journal entries, letter correspondence and newspaper articles. Readers get to experience the childhood of the “Quints” through the eyes of Emma, an endearing, vulnerable and truly unforgettable character who I absolutely loved and was hopeful for. I was completely drawn into this story from the first few pages and my astonishment didn’t falter even after I finished the last sentence. The author, Shelley Wood, does an outstanding job weaving fact and fiction, keeping the reader dedicated and emotionally connected to the characters and the outcome.
The Epilogue was exquisite, although not at all what I had expected. It left some things unanswered which was brilliant as it enticed me to do some research of my own. I am eager to investigate further into the story of the Dionne quintuplets and how the government stepped in to control their precious lives. This reading experience has left me baffled and curious in the best of ways – this is a true testament to phenomenal writing and storytelling. A truly remarkable novel!
I loved every single chapter, page, paragraph, sentence and word of this endearing story. This easily takes top spot of my 2019 Favourites List! Needless to say, I HIGHLY recommend!
Thank you to HarperCollins for gifting me a physical copy to read and review!
To find this review, along with a look into my Author Series event where I met this lovely author, please visit our blog at:
What a mixed bag! The writing itself is excellent and the plot is compelling as all get out. I didn't want to put it down...except for when I wanted to throw it out the window.
Two reasons I couldn't truly enjoy The Quintland Sisters:
Reason 1: The portrayals of the quints' parents are one-dimensional, often inaccurate, and occasionally downright hurtful. Two big examples:
a. Oliva Dionne was NEVER in favor of charging the public admission to see the quints. I don't understand how you could do as much research as Shelley Wood has obviously done, and not know that. He was the only member of the board of guardians who opposed the entire idea of letting the public view the quints, let alone charging for it, and Wood misrepresents that so completely, I just...couldn't even.
b. It's true that Elzire Dionne was a large woman, but do we really need to be told more than once or twice? Wood seems to be using Mme. Dionne's weight to make her unworthy of sympathy. Mme. Dionne lumbers, waddles, mutters, and snarls. When she's giving birth to quintuplets, she's described as "hardly human — mounds of oily flesh, juddering in pain." If that's not enough, she also gets compared to a sofa cushion and a tractor, and it just feels mean. She only died bout 20 years ago, which means she still has living children and grandchildren who remember her. I sure wouldn't like to read descriptions like that about my grandma, no matter how big she was. Mrs. Dionne may have had unpleasant sides to her character, but I think Wood is a good enough writer that she could have illustrated them a lot more respectfully.
Reason 2: The end. I almost don't want to talk about it. It's disturbing in and of itself, but that's not why I don't like it. The thing that happens should be disturbing, no matter the circumstances. My trouble is that in this book there's no doubt about who did it, and the person who did it was a real person. I happen to believe that Wood's perpetrator may have done some similar, terrible things in real life, but I still don't think it's fair to turn a real person into an even bigger villain without evidence. Like, if somebody quietly drains money from his father's bank account, it doesn't automatically mean he'll also commit armed robbery, you know? If Wood had kept the perpetrator's identity unclear, the end could have been even more unsettling (in a better way) by leaving you wondering about who the real villain is. There were even a couple scenes earlier in the book when two other characters did some vaguely creepy that things could have led to Wood's concluding scenario and made you wonder who to trust. THAT would have been a really, really cool way to end a story about the quints, where the lines between right and wrong are kind of gray right from the beginning. Instead the conclusion just left me feeling dirty, and not for the right reasons.
My 315th read of the year! Quite honestly, 2019 has been one for the record books because my shelf has been a majority tilt towards fantastic reads. Definitely getting better at shaping my yearly TBR!
In her historical fiction debut, Shelley Wood takes readers to 1930's Canada in the height of the Great Depression and exclusively through her fictional protagonist, Emma, a young midwife and later nurse/artist relates the sad tale of the first five years of the Dionne Quintuplets. It's a rough one as it is another example of how a provincial government (Ontario )took children away from their parents and allowed other adults to exploit the children for financial gain. Ironically, a multi million dollar revenue would be created in tourism but decades later, the sisters had to take the Ontario government to court.
Born on May 28th, 1934, Yvonne, Marie, Emilie, Annette, and Cecile Dionne were the first set of identical quints to survive past birth in Canada. Born into a French Canadian family and arriving two months prematurely, arguments were made that these children needed specialized care in order to survive. Overnight all of Canada and the world seemed to turn to the small Ontario town of Corbeil and they became media sensations.
The quints parent's Oliva and Elzire Dionne were poor farmers with 5 children already when the girls were born. A special home would be built across from the Dionne homestead and the children would live there. Daily people would flock to observe the children at play.
My first introduction to the Dionne Quints was with a made for television movie in the 90's(Million Dollar Babies) . The fact that so many of us Canadians(like our author) living today have forgotten about this story or knew absolutely nothing about it despite the fact two of the sisters(Cecile and Annette) are still living. In 100% disclosure and dismissing all the things I was told to do when I was studying my BA in Canadian history, it's hard not to react with emotion to the Dionne saga. Author Shelley Wood does a tremendous job of trying to remain as impartial as possible.
Although not a mother, I felt a lot of sadness for Elzire Dionne. Imagine wanting to hold your little baby so bad and being restricted from visiting them. Our main protagonist, Emma didn't really have a lot of empathy for her and at times, I was a bit disappointed with how Elzire was written. I needed a little bit more understanding in the author's note of why she was characterized in the book the way she was.
On the other hand, much has been written about the Dionne father and even the quints themselves claimed abuse at his hand. BUT, it would have been nice to know where exactly Woods was taking her characterized version of him.
In an interview to CBC in 2017, Cecile Dionne stated that the Canadian generation now doesn't care to know their struggle. On the contrary, I think that my overall reaction to this book definitely proves that just like the author...I do care and will certainly pass this book on to others Definitely a great contender for bookclub.
I have always been fascinated by these adorable little girls. But my heart absolutely goes out to them for the roller coaster ride of an upbringing they endured. I loved reading all their trials and tribulations of growing up. Very well written by Shelley Wood.
Emma is seventeen and dreams about being an artist. Her parents, however, wish she has a more practical career and arrange for her to have an apprenticeship with the midwife. One night, she is called to help with a delivery in the Dionne farmhouse. Matters turn dramatic when five tiny baby girls are born premature. These babies require round-the-clock care as their health is fragile. Emma falls in love with the quintuplets and signs on as a nurse as they defy the odds and survive. As the quintuplets garner international attention, Emma needs to define where her place is.
Another great historical fiction book! The Quintland Sisters is a heartwrenching, compelling, thoughtful and intruguing story about the birth and consecutive treatemnt of the first identical quintuplets to live to adulthood. Emma loves painting but has to work with the midwife to learn practical skills. Attending the birth of the quintuplets alters the path of her life. Instead of art, she goes into nursing. This allows her to stay on with the girls she has fallen in love with. Surviving being born premature, the girls are hailed a miracle and many flock to see them. Emma does her best to care and safeguard the girls but feels many may have ulterior motives to attending to them. As their fame increases, Emma falls more into the background until she finds her own voice. Told through diary entries, newspaper articles and letters, the narrative was moving and touching. The pace complimented the tone of the narrative. Characterization was strong showcasing that a character could be complex, being both at ally and an adversary to the girls. I liked the parallels between Emma struggling to to find her identity and that of the quintuplets' (individual identities) being aslomost supressed. greatly enjoyed this book.
The Dionne quintuplets (Yvonne, Annette, Cecilie, Marie and Emilie) were the first quintuplets to survive beyond infancy (in a time before artificial insemination). Born in Collander, Ontario (in 1934) their birth cause quite a shock. Early on, custody was removed from the parents (that alredy had five other children) under the guise that they had neither the money or knowledge to properly care for the girls. The Dionne Quintuplet Guardianship Act was established in 1935. with Oliva Dionne (their father) as one of the four guardians. Soon a hospital and nursery was built across the street from the Dionne farmhouse exclusively for the quintuplets. In a short time, this place was called Quintland and as much as 3,000 people visited per day. The girls could be observed while playing in their outdoor playground. Quintland generated about 500 million dollars in tourism revenue. In addition, the girls' image was used to promote a variety of products and also appeared on film severa times. Meanwhile, the girls were unaware that they were being exploited for financial gain. It is worth to mention that the girls were born amid the Great Depression and their exhibition helped boost their small town economy sustancially (not that that makes it right that they were used). Its clear now that not one of the guardians truly had the girls' best interest at heart. By the time they were "off" display, a chance for a normal life seemed complicated. This is a story of triumph but also of sorrow. These girls lacked for nothing but were robbed the chance of having any sense of normalcy.
Souvenir shop outside Quintland. Image from Quintland.com
It’s written with such truth and in part actual letters and manuscripts from the past.
Imagine, May 1934 and 5 baby sisters are born, one after the other.
The reporters went mad, the publicity was enormous. Everyone wanted a peek, everyone wanted a piece, curiosities of this proportion became other’s curiosity.
Mostly narrative from the viewpoint of the nurse looking after the babies was a huge sometimes hard emotional impact to listen to. How these girls growing up became a commodity.
They didn’t belong to the parent, they belonged to the Goverment. Things were controlled by others mostly and later it was a way to lay up money for the girls when they grew. No need to worry for anything.
They were like animals being looked and stared at at a zoo.
Three times per day they had visitors ogling them through a see through Perspex.
Catching up on two of the surviving sisters it is written that although they feel it didn’t have an effect on them at that time, they were aware people were there and played up to the crowds.
I think the one stabilising person was the nanny. There from beginning to the end of her job.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom because the story depicts how each little girl had such distinctive personalities.
The Father was an ogre. The mother knew less of them than any mother should.
Money features all the time. In the aim to “set the girls up” for the future. That didn’t happen.
I just had to research what become of these lovely innocent girls.
An emotional, revealing thought provoking account of this very publicised family story .
Fantastic! Not only a very compelling novelization of the birth and early lives of the Dionne Quintuplets, but a very moving coming of age/love story that was dazzlingly handled/revealed in the last 50 or so pages. What an epic look at human nature and fate. This book is enjoyable on many, many levels. I don't think anyone will be disappointed if they pick it up. Loved it!
Pointing out why I have chosen to abandon Shelley Wood's The Quintland Sisters about half way through is indeed extremely easy for me, and yes, it in my opinion therefore also makes utter and very much perfectly logical sense for me to only consider but one star.
Because when I am reading historical fiction, not only must a given author's writing style and general penmanship be engaging and readable, but equally importantly so, what the author in question actually writes, his or her featured and presented contents and themes, they must also be a personal reading fit and they most definitely and always need to be reasonable and make sense with regard to actual reality if a piece of historical fiction is in fact based on the latter. And well, to and for me, even though Shelley Wood's writerscraft in The Quintland Sisters is excellent and compellingly descriptive, in particular her portrayals of the Dionne Quintuplets parents are often if not even generally so ahistoical and so one dimensional and stereotypically nasty in scope and timbre that personally I can in fact only assume that author Shelley Wood obviously has some deep-seeded and rooted animosities and total hatreds towards and against rural-based French Canadians in general.
For basically from page one of The Quintland Sister, the Dionne Quintuplets' parents, both Oliva and Elzire Dionne, are in my opinion depicted by Shelley Wood (and seemingly almost joyfully so at that) as truly being almost monstrous and in many ways just like standardly horrid fairy tale like ogres and villains, with for example Oliva Dionne being portrayed as being (and right from the birth of his five identical twin daughters) both totally in agreement with and also really enjoying having his quintuplets displayed like circus freaks and the public being charged admission for seeing and watching them (something that actually and in reality is just not the truth, as in fact, Oliva was at first very staunchly against this but was outvoted) and Elzire Dionne being so very often described by the author as not only rather obese but usually compared by Shelley Wood to a waddling, lumbering blob like entity unworthy of even seemingly being considered human.
And indeed, after a few chapters of this rather in my face so to speak type of author-infused viciousness (and in my humble opinion pretty well palpable anti French Canadian authorial bias) I most certainly was so personally angry and livid at Shelley Wood's printed words that I was not only totally ready to throw in my reading towel and to consider The Quintland Sisters as totally and utterly not being my cup of proverbial tea but also more than willing to also and equally punish Shelley Wood with a one star rating. Since albeit we all do know and realise that Oliva and Elzire Dionne were most definitely far from perfect, and kind of majorly failed their quintuplets as basically EVERYONE associated with the five sisters did (and that yes, I do tend to at least consider it also credible that Oliva Dionne might well have sexually abused his daughters even though there has never been any bona fide evidence of this except for hear-say), Oliva and Elzire Dionne do in my opinion still deserve to be respectfully and truthfully approached in The Quintland Sisters and this just does not at ALL seem to occur with Shelley Wood's often seethingly toxic and rage-filled pen.
* THIS BOOK IS ON SALE THROUGH BOOKBUB ON AMAZON FOR $2.99 Kindle edition possibly free on unlimited Kindle March 28, 2020
I listened to the unabridged novel of THE QUINTLAND SISTERS written by Shelley Wood, read by Tavia Gilbert and published by HarperAudio and BLACK STONE Publishing. In this fiction debut of Shelley Wood, listeners are taken inside the devastating true story of the Dionne Quintuplets, told from the perspective of one young woman who meets them at the moment of their birth. "Reluctant midwife Emma Trimpany is just 17 when she assists at the harrowing birth of the Dionne quintuplets: five tiny miracles born to French farmers in hardscrabble Northern Ontario in 1934. Emma cares for them through their perilous first days and when the government decides to remove the babies from their francophone parents, making them wards of the British king, Emma signs on as their nurse." "Over 6,000 daily visitors come to ogle the identical "Quints" playing in their custom-built playground; at the height of the Great Depression, the tourism and advertising dollars pour in. While the rest of the world delights in their sameness, Emma sees each girl as unique: Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie, and Emilie. With her quirky eye for detail, Emma records every strange twist of events in her private journals. "As the fight over custody and revenues turns increasingly explosive, Emma is torn between the fishbowl sanctuary of Quintland and the wider world, now teetering on the brink of war. Steeped in research, THE QUINTLAND SISTERS is a novel of love, heartache, resilience, and enduring sisterhood - a fictional, coming-of-age story bound up in one of the strangest true tales of the past century." On May 28, 1934 the quintuplets were born just outside Callander near North Bay, Ontario. Their mother was 25 years old and she and her husband had 5 other children before the quintuplets were born. The total weight of the five babies was 13 pounds and 6 ounces. The first born girl weighed 3 pounds and 4 ounces. 2 pounds and 4 ounces is the combined weight of last two girls born.
Louis Cartwright left Callandar and to Montreal where he invented retractable landing gear for airplanes. The quintuplets have a royal meeting with the King and Queen in Toronto on May 22, 1939.
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction about the Dionne quintuplets. Much of the story is told through journal entries by Nurse Emma, letters between Emma and Ivy, and Emma and Louis and newspaper clippings, advertisements and posters. I was totally surprised by the ending, and the Epilogue and highly recommend this novel. Quintuplet stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I usually don’t like books like this and this book was no exception. I really dislike when authors take real life stories and expound on them making it their own. If they are authors they should be able to write a book based on their own ideas.
With that said I will say that I’ve always been intrigued by the Dionne quintuplets, how they were put on display in a “human zoo” and how they lived. That’s probably why I read this book. The book is broken down into parts. Some fiction and some nonfiction. It does drag on to the point of complete boredom.
I’ll be looking into other nonfiction books on the subject.
This book started out strong for me, I really enjoyed the factual information presented and the way the story was written in a diary form. Unfortunately the story became repetitive and dull about halfway through and the ending came out of left field. Another reviewer said that it felt like the author got bored and needed to end the book quickly which hits the nail on the head. I can handle sad endings but this was an ending that just comes out of nowhere and feels abrupt. I felt extremely cheated after investing my time reading this book and to accuse an actual person of a crime like this with no evidence is irresponsible.
I had never heard of the Dionne Quintuplets until this book. I did some research and reading up on these famous sisters after reading this book. There was not a lot of details on the sisters and thus for what little details there were, I thought author, Shelley Wood did a good job with this book. It helped explain why there was not a lot of details spent on the sisters in this book. That was one factor that had left me craving more. I wanted to get to know more about each sister and their personalities.
For this, I looked to Emma. She was the voice/narrator of this book. What a great narrator she was. She had a good voice and a nice wealth of knowledge about what it was like caring for the quintuplets. Ms. Wood really did transport me back in time. She is a good storyteller. This combined with Emma's voice, it was like I was Emma experiencing everything as she did. You have to make sure that The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood is on your reading list for 2019.
As a Canadian, I’ve grown up knowing SOMETHING about the Dionne quintuplets. I knew they were important. I knew they were famous. I knew they were French Canadian. But they were born long before I was, and test tube babies were the excitement when I was old enough to think about babies - and that was about it for the Dionne Quints for my Canadian consciousness. Shame on me.
So when I spotted Shelley Wood’s novel, “The Quintland Sisters”, I quickly jumped on the chance to refamiarize myself with this eventful - and apparently very conflicted- period surrounding the Dionne Quintuplets birth and lives.
The author has inserted a fictional character, Emma Timpany, a young local who is at the birth and who goes on to become a nurse to the quints. Emma acts as a constant narrator and commentator throughout the novel, anchoring the history of the girls in time and to the other actual historical figures as they moved in and out of their lives. The device is beautifully done, with Emma incorporated so fluidly she seems to be part of the narrative. Interspersed as well are copies of clippings from newspapers, which add incredible drama to the fiction that author Wood fills in for us.
The story flowed very well, is so compassionate and heartbreaking at the same time. I had no idea that the Dionne quints were a world wide phenomenon, that the World’s Fair wanted them to come as a display (!), that they were in a facility where they were put to be “viewed” daily. Ugh.
This was a fiction story of he Dionne quintuples born in 1934, I have read several books and articles about the quints and have always been interested in them. This story was told from the point of view of an untrained girl who started helping with the quints because her mother wanted her to be a midwife. She talks about the daily routines and how no one was seeing the girls as little girls but more as test cases. She also was cut off from what was going on in the world since they were kept separate from the world. I had planned on giving the book 5 stars but something she wrote about in the last few chapters spoiled the story.
"The Quintland Sisters" tells the story of the Dionne quintuplets, a famous set of siblings born in Canada in the 1930s. While quintuplets are still not common, they were really not common back then as this was well before the age of fertility interventions like IVF and the like. The Dionne sisters become celebrities of a sort almost from the time that they were born. They
If you've followed my reviews or my blog for any length of time, you may know that I have twin girls. They are identical and we get a lot of attention when we go out. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to have quintuplets and the uproar that it would still cause today. The Dionne family had people parking outside of their home waiting to catch a glimpse of the babies napping. Even from their earliest days, the Dionne sisters' lives are strange. I liked how the author was able to capture the uproar that constantly seems to thrum in the background of the girls' lives.
I liked that the book was narrated by Emma, a nurse whose first taste of nursing comes from helping to deliver the Dionne girls. She loves these girls and is protective of them as much as she can be. I really enjoyed seeing things through her eyes. We see as the girls' lives are upended over and over again throughout the book. People like Emma become some of the only constants that they had.
I felt so bad for the Dionne quintuplets throughout the book. You have to wonder what not having much of a childhood and constantly being on display must have been like. The book certainly gives us a taste of that and made for an enjoyable albeit sad read.
The heart-wrenching story of five identical little girls born to a poor family in Ontario, lovingly told through the eyes of a young woman who was present at the birth and stayed on to help these girls grow and thrive, despite the fact that hundreds of people came every day to see this miracle of birth. These French Canadian girls were the first quints known to have survived infancy, against the overwhelming odds. They were removed from their parents' home, as it was thought the parents had neither the resources nor the ability to care for them. Under government watchfulness, the girls' lives and finances were carefully controlled.
I am fascinated by them, as I was born on the same day: May 28. I grew up hearing stories about these five sisters, which were particularly interesting to me, since I was an only child.
This well-written story, lovingly told, will grab at your heart.
I read this EARC Debut courtesy of Edelweiss and Harper Collins. pub date 02/13/19
This was a book club pick, and I was the lone outlier in not appreciating this book. For me, it comes down to the fact that Wood wanted to write a book about the five Dionne quintuplets that showed how they were exploited, and how almost all of the adults around them made a lot of ethically and morally questionable decisions, but I feel like she just ended up exploiting them all over again. Not to say that this book couldn't have been written in a respectful way, but it makes me a bit queasy knowing two of the sisters were still alive, and weren't interviewed or contacted. (At least, the author didn't tell us she did.)
Anyway, I think if I met Wood and told her she exploited the girls all over again, she would be crushed. I'm certain that wasn't what she set out to do. Nevertheless, I feel like diving into the minutiae of the childhood all over again of these women who seemed to have wanted nothing more than live private lives isn't exactly respectful. Also, since this was a fictionalized account, she had to have villains and good guys, and I'm not sure she did justice to the reality of the push and pull of the adults in the lives of these girls.
Look, I absolutely believe the three sisters that said that M. Dionne sexually assaulted them when they were teens. But I'm not comfortable with painting him as the number one villain of this story. There's a lot we can't know about him, but Wood has made a lot of assumptions. I'm also really disappointed that Mme. Dionne never walked anywhere, she only lumbered or waddled. The way she is described is deeply dehumanizing, and I have a lot of sympathy for a woman who was only 25 with 5 older children who managed to carry and deliver quintuplets, only to be disallowed from touching them almost immediately. I also think she went awfully easy on Dr. Dafoe, who ruled over these girls with an iron fist and enriched himself immensely during the process.
I also think our narrator, who tells us the story mostly through her journals and letters, was there to serve the plot and Wood's message, rather than the other way around. This was a common refrain at book club, with a lot of people wishing we had learned more about her and seen her character further developed and explored, rather than focusing so much on the routines and details of the quintuplets first five years.
In the end, I wish Wood had fictionalized this further and used the quintuplets as inspiration and created a fictional set of multiples. The story of the Dionne sisters is undeniably compelling, and I wish she had used it as a spring board, rather than attempted a retelling. This just blurred the line between fact and fiction too much for me.
This was a good choice for book club though! We had, as they say, a robust discussion, and it was pretty far ranging. We talked about the tragedies of indigenous children being removed from their families, what it was like growing up in a family of 10 children, how childbearing and rearing as a function of community has changed, and what kind of lasting effects growing up in the depression had on people. So thank you Leslie and Book Club!
RAPE IS NOT A PLOT DEVICE!! UGH. I wanted to like this book so much. And it was fine, until the end. HUGE SPOILERS— There’s a COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY rape scene, and that’s how the book ends. It’s very obvious who committed the rape, if not exactly said aloud. The scene comes completely out of nowhere, at the end of an otherwise decent book, and completely ruins the whole thing. Read at your own risk, I guess.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I have heard of the Dionne Quints but didn't realize how the sisters were put on display like zoo animals and the money that was made from their existence. This is a heartbreaking and hard to put down debut novel. I ended up doing some research of my own to read about their lives after the book ended.
I had not heard about the Dionne Quintuplets before I read this book (which has caused me to be on Google a lot at the moment, lol). I thought this novel was well written and I think Shelley Wood is an excellent storyteller, I'm anxious to read anything else she writes. I love how this book is told in diary format. What these babies went through during the depression is very upsetting and tugged at my heart strings. I will definitely read some nonfiction about them soon.
As the author wrote in her notes at the end, "the brighter the spotlight, the darker the shadows." This was a fascinating look into the first five years of the Dionne quintuplets' lives from the perspective of a girl/young woman who unexpectedly becomes the lone constant in their lives. The book is fiction, but it is based on facts which have been collected and preserved by quint fans for decades - almost a century, really. Emma, the narrator, is naive by her own admission, and it is her search for clarification that shows the reader the dark and the light of what was happening to those five little girls and everyone around them. Her journey from a reluctant nurse to an adoring mother figure was sweet and believable, and it was because I grew so fond of Emma that I was disappointed at the ending of the book. It was done with such unexpected finality it was as if Ms Wood rushed to finish, leaving me breathless with a need for answers and closure. Emma did so much more in her life - her letters hint at it all - but I wanted to see her at least start out on that path, become what she eventually was. Having said that, the book overall was excellent reading, and I applaud Ms Wood for her unique and insightful approach to this wholly Canadian and yet internationally known story.
The Dionne quintuplets were born in a small town in Northern Ontario in 1934. It was amazing that they all lived. However, not long after they were born, they were taken from the parents to live across the street in a building built to keep them safe and healthy. 17-year old Emma was there when they were born to help the midwife. She becomes a nurse and is one of a revolving door of nurses and teachers (in addition to Dr. Dafoe and others) to help take care of the girls. They’ve immediately become sensations, being so rare. People come from all over to see the girls in their purpose-built play room, so the girls are visible to outsiders, but the visitors aren’t visible to the girls.
The story is told in diary form from Emma’s point of view up until the girls are 5-years old. It is interspersed with real newspaper articles. It’s a sad story, as the parents rarely had access to see their daughters. Since this is fiction, I don’t really know what the parents were like, but I waffled between feeling bad for them and really not liking them, as they were very strict and the father seemed more interested in the money and control of the girls’ lives.
I did appreciate the historical note. Emma was, as I’d suspected, not a real person. I was surprised at the end, but she did put a bit into the historical note that might help explain. I definitely want to find and read some nonfiction on the Dionne quintuplets.
Shelley Wood decided to fictionalize the story of the Dionne quints, born two months early in 1934 in Canada, because she feared it was in danger of being forgotten and wanted to reach a wider audience than readers of non-fictional accounts. She did a wonderful job!
Her narrator, Emma, is only 17 when she accompanies a local midwife to the Dionne farm, where a French grand multipara (a woman who has given birth 5 times or more before), is in premature labour. Emma isn't that keen on midwifery, she would much rather study art. Her parents want her to pursue a profession which offers more financial security, though, since her marriage prospects are uncertain due to a large birthmark on her cheek.
Everyone present is astounded when Mrs Dionne gives birth to five minute girls who look remarkably similar. (Researchers later determined that they were identical!) Emma falls head over heels in love with them. She guards them in their "nest" next to the open stove, and hastily documents events in her notebook. She wants to record every detail before things change - no one expects them to live very long. She also sketches the strange-looking, fragile little humans.
Miraculously, all five babies survive the night. As the news of their birth spreads, help starts pouring in from all over: nurses arrive, hospitals send donor breast milk and an incubator. Nevertheless things are touch and go for months. Amidst the uncertainty Mr Dionne, desperately worried about finances, signs a contract to move the girls to a fairground exhibit as soon as possible. Government officials step in and the girls become wards of the state. This is only the beginning of a decade-long financial and custodial tug-of-war between the Dionne parents, the state, and the country doctor who became famous for having delivered and cared for the world's first surviving quints.
At the age of three months the babies, desperately ill with gastroenteritis, are moved to a specially built hospital across the road. Contact with their parents, not to mention their siblings, is severely restricted, and Emma becomes the closest thing the girls have to a mom, a source of normality in their exceedingly bizarre life. Tourists flock to the hospital to gawk at the girls. Researchers study the minutiae of their highly-regimented lives. They become a Canadian treasury, worldwide celebrities, and profitable commodities. Everyone wants a piece of them. They are sequestered in the nursery for five years, until they travel - on a designated train, no less - to Toronto to meet the king and queen.
Meanwhile war clouds are gathering. Emma's doubts grow: she truly wants the best for the girls, but what does 'the best' mean? She doesn't want to abandon her darlings yet fears that she has been complicit in robbing them of a happier, more normal childhood. And what about her own fulfilment? Her dreams of attending art school are finally within reach; it is even possible that she is falling in love with a good man who feels the same way about her. Will fate deal her a better, less complicated hand than the Dionne family got?
Emma is a sympathetic and memorable character. I savoured this bittersweet book and am eager to read Family Secrets, an autobiography by the surviving Dionne sisters.
This was pretty bad and I am honestly surprised at the amount of positive reviews here.
I will start off with the positive which is that the author captured what Quintland was like pretty well. You could clearly imagine all the people trying to get a glimpse of the girls and Shelly Wood really did highlight how both the parents and their other guardians (the doctors and government) were only looking out for their own self interest and not the girls. This is the only reason I'm giving it two stars instead of one.
That said, all the positives I just mentioned could surely be found in a non fiction book about them or even in just the articles the author put in the book. None of this information is really new, and the novelization aspect brings nothing to the table.
The novel itself would have been better if the main character herself was interesting but she was painfully dull. I came into this book interested to read about the quintuplets, and I'm left with a protagonist with very little personality, and who I did not care about. I also did not care about her love story and by the end I was very happy I didn't.
The ending was also a complete mess. The whole book was so dull, and then suddenly something horrific happens, and it just ends. What the hell.
Even with the terrible ending, the book's biggest crime was the handling of the quints. It is ironic because I feel like a message of the book was that they were overlooked, but here they are getting overlooked again in favour of a boring main character nobody picked up this book to read about. I get maybe she was trying to keep in line with what is historically known about their personalities, but surely they had some? The girls here were portrayed with no personalities whatsoever except that they played sometimes and got confused over what the adults were doing. If you are going to write a NOVEL about the real people, at least make them interesting and somebody people can connect to emotionally.
So in short form this book was pretty disappointing and I do not recommend.
Long before Kate Plus Eight or the Octomom, there were the Dionne Quintuplets, the first quintuplets to survive their infancy. They were born in French-speaking, rural Canada in 1934. Their parents had five other children. They were shamed for it. People also sent money and fan mail. The government took custody of the girls, leading to many disputes over the years. A doctor and his crew of nurses took over care of the girls.
The Quintland Sisters tells the story of the first few years of the quintuplets lives from the perspective of a young woman, Emma Trimpany, who works as a nurse to the girls. Born with a large birthmark on her face, Emma is used to being overlooked and disregarded. “This is something I’ve managed to pull off my whole life, to make myself invisible and unremarkable—no mean task with a crimson stain covering half my face.” Her mother sends her over with the midwife the night that the quints are born, thinking it might be a suitable profession for her disfigured daughter.
Emma gets sent to nursing school so that she’s properly trained to assist in their care. She becomes attached to the girls and friendly with several nurses, particularly Yvonne Leroux (known to everyone as Ivy), who she remains friends with even after she leaves. We’re told the story through journal entries, letters and news reports. Emma draws pictures of the girls which she ends up selling to advertisers. She’s talented and someone suggests she apply to art school. It’s a superb way to tell this story through the fictional Emma interacting with the real-life team.
It’s fascinating to read about their care. Can you imagine caring for so many infants? It definitely takes a team. No one even believed they’d survive past the first week. It was humorous to read the doctor and some of the nurses commenting on the likelihood of the girls’ survival. They gave one of the girls rum to “stimulate” her heart. Before they received a shipment of breast milk, the girls were fed a mix of corn syrup, cow’s milk and boiled water. They kept records of everything.
The quintuplets generated lots of income from visitors as well as through endorsements. It’s not a new Instagram era thing to earn money this way. There was a court case between several corn syrup companies to determine who would have exclusivity. [“The ridiculous thing is, we don’t even feed the babies corn syrup. Dr. Blatz believes sugar in any form is bad for children. I should tell that to the newspapers.”] Several films were made about them. There was a custom-built playground that allowed for spectators. There were 6, 000 daily visitors! Celebrities such as Amelia Earhart visited. They sold souvenirs! It was a real money-making business. Unfortunately, not everyone cared for the girls and their future. Celebrity and money attract deceitful people wanting to take advantage of the situation. Many nefarious incidents occurred over the years.
It’s a meticulously researched novel and why I’m a fan of historical fiction. I love having a fictional character introduce me to real people and actual events. I really want to know what happened to the quintuplets as adults. I made myself not Google while reading. What were their lives like at that time? I might read one of the nonfiction books about them to garner more information.
The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood was a well written, informative and emotional book. I was not aware of the births, lives or history of the Quintland sisters so I found Shelley Wood's account of their story fascinating and intriguing. It was hard for me to put this book down since I was curious and emotionally involved about the outcomes of the five sisters. I loved the way Shelley Wood decided to tell the story about the quintuplets. The story about these five little, fragile sisters was told through the voice of Emma Trimpany, a young, seventeen year old, high school girl whose mother thought she might aspire to become a midwife with the right amount of training. Emma had a birthmark on one side of her face and her mother always believed a good profession would be advisable since she doubted Emma would ever marry. By fate, the night she accompanied the midwife to the Dionne farm was the night the quintuplets were born. It was 1934 in Northern Ontario, that Emma stood in awe and fright during the harrowing births of Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie and Emilie. Emma was requested by Dr. Dafoe, the doctor who brought the little girls into this world, to remain and help care for the babies those first few crucial days. No one expected that all five babies would live but miraculously they did. Emma would become the single nurse who took care of the sisters the longest.
Since this was the first set of living quintuplets, the government of Ontario stepped in and decided to make the sisters wards of the British king. Dr. Dafoe was still very concerned with the girls' health. With the support of the government, Dr. Dafoe and his team of nurses which now included Emma, took over the day-to-day care of the quintuplets. Their parents were banned from interacting or caring for the babies. As soon as the babies were deemed well enough they were removed from the Dionne farmhouse. The parents were french speaking, devout Catholics and displayed little or no warmth or love toward their existing other five children. The Dionne family was quite poor as well. In order to house the quintuplets properly, a brand new hospital was commissioned and built across the street from the Dionne farm. No expense was spared in raising and taking care of the little girls.
Over the years, the girls became spectacles. An observation station was built, where over 6,000 visitors came to see the sisters while they played in their private playground. The little girls were unaware of the thousands of eyes that watched them. A new doctor , Dr. Blatz, joined the staff. The way he regarded the sisters was very upsetting. He saw them as experiments or "animals in a zoo". It was also upsetting how the Canadian government and advertising agencies exploited the girls and made so much money in doing so. Throughout the years, the Dionne's fought for custody of their children. M. Dionne was focused on the profits the girls were making and what part of that he was entitled to. The parent's occasional visits were confusing and at times scary for the little girls. The one thing the girls learned was that they could always count on the love and protection of the nurses.
Emma loved each girl and saw each one as their own person with their own personalities and individual traits. She kept journals over the years documenting the girls progress and accomplishments, moments of mischief or of tenderness. Emma was also a very talented artist. She began to sketch and paint the girls and was compensated very handsomely for that as well. Emma had the girl's best interests foremost in her heart, though. She always asked if the girls' trust fund was sufficient to take care of them for the rest of their lives. The quintuplets always came first to Emma.
The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood was a wonderful book. It was very well researched. She included many actual newspaper articles in the book that appeared throughout the years the quintuplets were growing up. I highly recommend this book.
I knew almost nothing about the Dionne Quintuplets before reading The Quintland Sisters, so I devoured this book as a novel, not as historical fact.
I loved it—the mix of diary entries and newspaper articles (which I gather were real) made for a fascinating blend of fact and fiction and it made me, as a reader, have to do some of the work to fill in the gaps, which I always love in a book. The plot is fast and compelling, with a constant hint of foreboding, and the characters were beautifully drawn, with just enough details that I could fill in the rest, especially when it is obvious that Emma is judging people based on their looks or actions like a typical teenager. Emma is definitely an “unreliable narrator” or maybe more of a “naïve narrator”: watching her subtly change her impressions of who is doing the “right” thing by the quintuplets over the course of the novel felt, to me, to be very true to life. Her description of the birth at the beginning is exactly the kind of reaction I think any 17-year old girl would have, but by the end of the novel she has acquired a wisdom or at least an uncertainty about people and events that to me rang true.
The climax of the book I did not see coming, but when I went back and re-read certain sections I realized that I was a bit like Emma, only seeing the things I wanted to see, caught up in my chosen story line.
I, of course, went and googled as much as I could about the quintuplets after finishing the book and I was so sorry to hear what happened to them when they were finally reunited with their family. That happened some time after the period covered in the novel, but I can imagine how it must have influenced the author who would have wanted to find a way to hint at the future while only writing about the first five years. And then the world seemed to completely forget about them, which is a travesty. As a work of fiction, this is a fast and fascinating read and hopefully will inspire people to go out and learn more about their true story.
Overall, I thought The Quintland Sisters was sometimes sad and upsetting, and at other times really sweet and beautiful, which seems to me an accurate echo of the real lives of the Dionne girls.
I am recommending The Quintland Sisters to my book club as part of our 2019 line up, there is no doubt.
Reality television – or any television – hadn’t been invented yet when the Dionne Quintuplets were born in Canada in 1934, but if it had been, their lives wouldn’t have been any less tragic, or crazy.
Their story, as told by Emma Trimpany, a seventeen-year-old midwife-in-training, is the dichotomy of the the fish and the fishbowl. Inside, Emma sees each of the five “Quintland Sisters” – ripped from their family by the doctors who saw them as a means to fame and fortune – as a unique person, each with a name, a personality, her own personhood. But to outsiders it’s the similarities that attract, and people come from miles around to gawk at the girls in their specially-built playground.
What struck me about this book, which is a fictional retelling of a true story, is how much the Dionne Quintuplets’ story is so similar to the stories we see today – the OctoMom media frenzy ended up with similar product placement opportunities, and, while not precisely the same, the Hensel twins (the famous conjoined twins) have likewise been media darlings their entire lives.
Wood does an amazing job capturing the period, the Dionne family’s distress and confusion – sure, they’re uneducated and poor, but that doesn’t make them unfit parents. The juxtaposition of Depression-era austerity with the lavishness given to the girls, and not their parents was also quite well shown. I liked the device of using Emily as the point of view character, as she was closer in class to the Dionnes and closer in education to the doctors… she was the perfect betwixt-and-between person to let us see all perspectives.
Overall, I found the story to be unsettling, but I believe that was the intent. It should be unsettling to read about children being treated more like an exhibition than people.
Goes well with tea and strawberry cupcakes. Carnival food.
I listened to this on audio. The entire time I thought I was listening to a nonfiction story. Unfortunately, the main character Emma who is telling the story is not real! But the quintuplets were real. So it was based on a true story. The story is of the first 5 years of the quintuplets life born in Canada. The government took the quintuplets away from their parents and put them on display like a zoo animal for nine years. It was so heartbreaking how the girls were treated for that many years. After doing some research on the girls. Two of them are still alive (84) years old now. It's well worth a read.