I had to laugh at the irony of reading a book about the 1918 pandemic while living through the 2020 pandemic.
However, this was a really interesting book, and almost felt like multiple books in one. There are two major plot points, and both are equally fleshed out and explored.
From the synopsis you learn that this book is set in 1918 in Philadelphia, where the Spanish flu was especially rampant. The descriptions of how people died and what was done with their bodies afterward was quite detailed. While I do beleive that this level of detail set the stage for just how dire circumstances were at that time, it may have been a little more detail than I needed. At times, the descriptions left me feeling a little nauseated. I also found the first 75 or so pages to move a little slow for me. That said, I'm glad I stuck it out because things picked up and I became quite engrossed in the book.
The other major plot point (this is not a spoiler, it's in the synopsis) is about Bernice, who decides that she knows what is best for orphans and immigrant children, and takes matters into her own hands to alter the lives of these children. Reading about the children and what Bernice did was just gut wrenching. Once again, I felt sick inside, but for entirely different reasons.
It was really interesting to read about how immigrants were viewed and treated in 1918. Pia, the main character, had to hide her German heritage at times. People who considered themselves "true Americans" looked down on these immigrants with hatred and disgust. Sadly, I'm not sure that things have progressed as much as one would hope in the past 100 years.
Anyway, I loved how the story progressed and seeing the ways that Pia and Bernice crossed paths at multiple points over the course of the story. I thought the author did a great job with how she wrapped things up as well.
This book also made me think. How many babies and young children were orphaned during this time? How many of them were so young that they didn't even know their own names? Can you imagine how your life would be altered? Not only living in an orphanage or getting a new home, but never truly knowing your family history or who you were. 100 years ago, there was no such thing as ancestry.com, so people were left with no information whatsoever about their heritage. It's just crazy to think about how many families were forever changed by the Spanish flu.
The Orphan Collector made me feel a wide range of emotions. While at times I felt disgust, sickness, and heartbreak, there were also aspects that made me feel joy and contentment. I love that it made me feel so many emotions, and Pia was a wonderful main character that will stick with me for a long time.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, I definitely recommend picking this one up.