I have read several of Ellen Marie Wiseman's books over the years, so when I saw that she had written a new book I knew that I just had to own it and read it. Although it took an extraordinarily long time for this book to be delivered to my home, it was well worth the wait. Ellen Marie Wiseman's new book, The Orphan Collector, captured my attention from the very beginning. I could not put this book down.
The timing of this novel could not have been more coincidental. It coincided with the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States and worldwide. Although I heard the Coronavirus being compared to the Spanish Flu, I did not know a lot about the Spanish Flu and that time in our history. It was surely a very sad and devastating time. The way the Spanish flu attacked children, adults, families, babies and life in general will break your heart. The characters in The Orphan Collector were brilliantly developed and made a lasting impression on me. If you enjoy reading historical fiction that is well researched, The Orphan Collector will not disappoint. In my opinion, The Orphan Collector was Ellen Marie Wiseman's best book that I have read.
Pia Lange was a thirteen year old girl when the Spanish Flu struck in September of 1918. She was living in the city of Philadelphia in the Fifth Ward. She was very poor. Pia lived with her Mutti (mother) and two twin baby brothers, Oliver and Maxwell or Ollie and Max for short. Her Vater (father) had enlisted in the army and was off fighting in the war. Pia's family had immigrated to the United States from Germany when she was a four year old girl. Since the war began, German-American citizens were not looked on kindly. Some companies even stopped employing Germans. Pia's Mutti lost her job at a textile mill as a result. With all the anti-German feelings Mutti tried very hard not to speak any German words in public. They did not have a lot of friends as a result. Everyone was wary of anyone from Germany that were now living in the United States.
When Mutti heard about the Liberty Loan parade she was determined to attend. She knew she could not afford to buy Liberty loans or to give a donation to the Red Cross so this was the best way she could show her patriotism. Over 200,000 people gathered for the parade on that fateful day in 1918. Everyone was there to support the troops, buy war bonds and show their patriotism. The mayor had been warned to cancel the parade but he paid no mind to the warnings. The day before the parade it was reported that over 200 people had been admitted to the hospitals. Pia was gifted with the ability to detect illness. She was able to tell when someone was sick just by touching them. As Pia came into contact with several people during the parade she could sense that something was very wrong. Little did she know that her life would be altered drastically as a result of attending that parade.
As tragedy hit Pia's family, Pia was forced to make extremely difficult decisions. The flu had taken Mutti's life. Mutti was dead. Ollie and Max were now dependent upon Pia for their care and survival. As their food dwindled and became non-existent, Pia had to decide if she should leave the apartment to look for food or wait for someone to come and help them. She was afraid the twins would starve. Her mind was made up. She would leave the twins in the apartment and go to find food. Her bravery, determination, resourcefulness and intuition were commendable. Pia had to make decisions that no thirteen year old child should have been forced to make. After finding and deciding on a safe place to leave Ollie and Max in their apartment, Pia set off to find food for them. Her plan was for her not to be out of the apartment for any significant length of time. She did not want to leave her brothers for longer than she had to. She was feeling guilty as it was for leaving her brothers in the cubby in her parent's bedroom. Pia knew that they would be safe there but she didn't like leaving them there. She had no choice.
As kind, caring and accepting as Pia's Mutti had been, Pia's neighbor Bernice Groves was the exact opposite. Bernice was a twenty year old woman who had recently lost her husband in the war and tragically lost her infant son, Wallis, to the flu. Bernice lived on the same street as Pia but in a different building. She grieved for her son to the extent that she thought about ending her own life. Bernice's life was dominated by extreme prejudice. She could not tolerate the idea of so many poor immigrant families living in America and taking jobs away from "real" Americans. This hatred and bigotry led Bernice to do so many unspeakable things throughout the book. Bernice had no redeeming qualities.
The Orphan Collector told the story of how so many children became orphaned during the Spanish flu epidemic. The orphans were not always treated so kindly. Many ended up in orphanages but others were sent on Orphan Trains to the west to live and work on farms. So many people struggled to feed their families and tried desperately to avoid the hands of the deadly flu. I learned so much about this time in our history.
I came to love the characters of Pia, Finn and Dr. and Mrs. Hudson as I hope you will too after reading The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The descriptions throughout the book were detailed and really made this story easy to visualize. The themes in the story were numerous. It explored, above all, the tragedies associated with the Spanish flu, the fate of all the orphaned children, survival, determination, hope, love, kindness, and ultimately never to give up on something you believe in and want so badly. Following Pia along her moving and perilous journey in 1918 made me very emotional. I cried, smiled, laughed, became angry and sad. Ellen Marie Wiseman's writing was well-researched and masterful. This was one of my favorite books I have read this year. The Orphan Collector will be published on July 28, 2020. I highly recommend this book.
I received a complimentary copy of The Orphan Collector in a Bookish First raffle using my own points to obtain it. A special thank you to Vida Engstrand, Director of Communications at Kennsington Publishing Corp. for sending me a special boxed edition of this book when the book I won never came, Ellen Marie Wiseman, Kennsington Publishing Corporation and to Bookish First. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.