The Home for Unwanted Girls

Written by Joanna Goodman
Review by Arleigh Ordoyne

It’s post-WWII, and in Québec there are two opposing factions: French Canadians and British Canadians. Rarely do the communities mix; however, fifteen-year-old Maggie has parents who are an exception—a fact that doesn’t mean her bilingual father is open to her seeing the poor French boy next door, Gabriel Phénix. When they find that Maggie is pregnant, she is sent away to have baby Elodie, a sickly preemie who is handed to the nuns at an orphanage.

This story covers both Maggie’s journey into adulthood, Elodie’s ordeal as a “Duplessis orphan,” and their eventual coming to terms with the hands they were dealt in life. The cultural and political themes are one of the most interesting aspects of the story—an eye-opener for anyone not familiar with this era of Canadian history. Even though the first chapter opens with eloquence on the subject of seeds and growing plants, it’s not the main focus, but cushions the narrative comfortably in the background and also provides a clever parallel.

The orphan theme seems to be a trend lately, and Goodman’s take brings to light a subject matter that is heartrending, but historically accurate. The children, who were deemed mentally deficient by the government for nothing more than extra funding, find a voice in this book that encourages readers to research more about this dark time in Canada’s history. While this story is incredibly sad, it also offers forgiveness and second chances for multiple characters. It is a wonderfully told coming-of-age tale recommended for anyone looking for emotional and redemptive fiction.