The Home for Unwanted Girls

The Home for Unwanted Girls

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 Englis...

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Title:The Home for Unwanted Girls
Author:Joanna Goodman
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Home for Unwanted Girls Reviews

  • Lindsay - Traveling Sister

    5 stars! I truly loved this novel!

    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 l

    5 stars! I truly loved this novel!

    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:

    Thank you to Edelweiss, Harper and Joanna Goodman for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

    The Home For Unwanted Girls is AVAILABLE NOW!!

  • Wendy

    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 moth

    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.

  • Brenda - Traveling Sister

    Traveling Friends Group Read

    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

    Traveling Friends Group Read

    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.

  • Rose (Traveling Sister)

    SPOILER: IT WAS AN ABSOLUTELY PERFECT BOOK!

    Don't worry, there are no spoilers here. This book was the bee's flippin' knees. Although it was easily one of the saddest novels I've ever read, the feelings I had at the end were of lightness rather than darkness, which, all things considered, is an amazing feat.

    Maggie is

    SPOILER: IT WAS AN ABSOLUTELY PERFECT BOOK!

    Don't worry, there are no spoilers here. This book was the bee's flippin' knees. Although it was easily one of the saddest novels I've ever read, the feelings I had at the end were of lightness rather than darkness, which, all things considered, is an amazing feat.

    Maggie is sixteen in 1950, living in rural Québec with her father, who owns a seed shop and her mother, who

    Her world is fairly limited to her immediate family and a few friends at school. She also has her neighbors, the Phénix siblings, among them Gabriel. Gabriel is a dreamboat.

    After Maggie becomes pregnant, her parents are so ashamed of her circumstances and afraid for her reputation that they put her baby up for adoption against her will. As Maggie grows older, the thought of what happened to the daughter she was never able to hold torments her, but she tries her best to move on. The baby, Elodie, was never adopted. Rather, she was put into an orphanage that kept her safe, educated, and well-fed for the first several years of her life. But then Maurice Dupplessis, the Premier of the province, realizes he can save money by converting all of the orphanages to insane asylums. Yuuuuupppppp.

    To be clear, this was an actual thing that happened. I have no idea how I hadn't heard about it before, but I. Was. Floored. The things that take place in the orphanages/asylums in this novel, in real life, are appalling and tragic and easily qualify as crimes against humanity. And in Canada, of all places. EVERYONE'S SUPPOSED TO BE SO NICE, because I'm a dumb American, and I have to believe that somewhere, things are pure.

    The thing about novels like this is that you don't realize how suspenseful they are until suddenly you have goosebumps. The language is so gorgeous and the characters are so vivid in your mind that you are completely absorbed; you don't think about finding the answers to questions until they slap you right in the face.

    The same can't be said for most books, even page-turning thrillers. Of course it's a good sign if an author has you desperate to reach the last page, but it's an even better sign when you don't want it to end. The way the two stories in this novel were woven (Maggie's and Elodie's, over the course of 20 years), I was left formulating a dozen different endings in my head. But I was never thinking, "Get to the point already!" I was never tempted to skim.

    I fell headfirst into this thing and had to slowly crawl my way back out. I finished this three days ago and am just now able to formulate sentences about it. I can't even remember the last time that's happened. I've had book hangovers before, but this is a doozy.

    I heard about this novel through the Traveling Friends group.

    Full review on my blog,

  • Diane S ☔

    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 hard

    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.

    ARC from Harper publisher.

  • Angela M

    3.5 stars rounded up.

    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, contain

    3.5 stars rounded up.

    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. (

    ) 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.

  • Jonetta

    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

    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

  • Norma * Traveling Sister

    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 defi

    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!

    * Traveling Friends Group Read *

    Review can also be found on Two Sisters Lost in a Coulee Reading:

  • Antoinette

    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

    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!

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