Book Review

The Orphan Collector

  • The Orphan Collector
  • Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction
  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am providing my opinion voluntarily.

TRIGGER WARNING: pandemic, xenophobia, death, off-page suicide, kidnapping, child abuse/neglect

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . . .

Since her baby died days ago, Bernice Groves has been lost in grief and bitterness. If doctors hadn’t been so busy tending to hordes of immigrants, perhaps they could have saved her son. When Bernice sees Pia leaving her tenement across the way, she is buoyed by a shocking, life-altering decision that leads her on a sinister mission: to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans.”

As Pia navigates the city’s somber neighborhoods, she cannot know that her brothers won’t be home when she returns. And it will be a long and arduous journey to learn what happened—even as Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost. Only with persistence, and the courage to face her own shame and fear, will Pia put the pieces together and find the strength to risk everything to see justice at last.

If you had asked me about this a year ago, I would never have expected to have firsthand understanding of what living through a pandemic could be like. However, life as we know it has been turned upside down. I can’t help but feel for the author, who obviously put so much effort into researching the 1918 pandemic for this book, only to have it hit so close to him in today’s society. I think that fact might make it really difficult for some people to read it, especially those who have been deeply affected by our current situation. For me, it really put things into perspective as to how different things are in the present day as they were in 1918.

I struggled a little with the characters. Pia was easy to empathize with, since she was just a kid and dealing with issues outside of her own control. She stayed single-minded in her focus to find her brothers, but she was so steeped in guilt and shame over her actions throughout the book.

Bernice was a character that was so hateful and embittered, I couldn’t find a single positive attribute in her, no matter how hard I tried. And to be honest, I didn’t try very hard, because she was just a horrible person. Her point of view was all about blaming immigrants for literally everything, and deciding that she knew best, including how to turn children into “true Americans.” Even the single positive action that she took was twisted into a horribly selfish act.

I felt that this book fell a little short of the mark. The story could have been one that stuck with me long after I finished, similar to Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Instead, the one-dimensional characters left an impression that faded shortly after I turned the final page, and the ending was rushed. The potential was definitely there, but unfortunately, the book just didn’t hit the mark for me.

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