Before the days of foster homes, there were children’s homes. Massive institutions that housed hundreds of children were the landing spot of vulnerable orphans or displaced children. Some came for temporary situations and others were there until they aged out. In her historically documented novel, Orphan #8, Kim van Alkemade tells the story of one child who grew up in the Hebrew Children’s Home in New York City.
After the tragic death of her mother, Rachel Rabinowitz and her brother Sam became wards of the home. Separated by age, at four years old she found herself housed with the infants, and at six years old, he lived with the elementary aged children. What happened behind those thick stone walls never really mattered in the course of public discussion. Orphans and their care fell under the jurisdiction of the home.
Years later, at nearly 40, working as a nurse, Rachel finds herself caring for a Dr. Solomon. There is something familiar about this name. As Rachel seeks to discover more about her patient, she stumbles upon information about her own time in the Children’s Home that brings terrible memories rushing back. Vulnerable children were subject to all manner of tests and medical experiments and studies under the leadership of medical professionals, including Dr. Solomon. Rachel had been one of her test subjects, Orphan #8. Wrestling with forgiveness and revenge, Rachel’s journey through her past is the door to her future.
This well documented historical novel provided interesting insight into the plight of orphans during the early 1900’s. It reveals that caring for orphans well has always been a challenge for society and that their vulnerable state was often exploited. Additionally, Alkemade used this story to highlight the plight of individuals struggling with their sexual identity. As a young teen in the home, Rachel realizes that she is attracted to some girls. They make her feel beautiful and loved. This becomes an underlying theme through the book as she wrestles with who she is in light of the past she discovers. While this novel does promote understanding of the struggles of homosexuals and lesbians, it did not seem to be pushing an organizational agenda. I feel like this book could be appreciated by those interested in history who are willing to be understanding of the struggles of others in the past and present.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.