Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City’s Jewish orphanages.
In 1919, four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz is placed in the Hebrew Infant Home where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research on the children. Dr. Solomon subjects Rachel to an experimental course of X-ray treatments that establish the doctor’s reputation while risking the little girl’s health. Now it’s 1954, and Rachel is a nurse in the hospice wing of the Old Hebrews Home when elderly Dr. Solomon becomes her patient. Realizing the power she holds over the helpless doctor, Rachel embarks on a dangerous experiment of her own design. Before the night shift ends, Rachel will be forced to choose between forgiveness and revenge.
Inspired by true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful novel about the human capacity to harm—and to love.
What Did I Think About the Story?
Being as big a fan of historical fiction, nonfiction and movies and TV shows centered somehow around history as I am, I tend to slip into the belief from time to time that I've read or heard it all about most aspects of history. That being said, I'm always delightfully surprised when I come across a book that talks about an aspect of history I have never even heard of before. When I read the synopsis of Orphan # 8 I knew this book fit the bill and was one that I needed to read. I'm happy to say the book satisfied my need to learn more about this time and place in history and presented a narrator in a specific set of circumstances I can't imagine coming across again.
First and foremost, my heart ached for Rachel. If something could befall a person it seemed to happen to her. From the horrific circumstances that left her and her brother Sam orphans to her being placed at such a young age in a separate orphanage from Sam - an orphanage where she became "material" for the doctors' experiments that lead to a plethora of medical issues - to being reunited with her brother and then separated, time and again, from him....if it could have happened it seemed to happen to her. Her entire life was a struggle with loneliness, health issues, abandonment issues and so much more. Is it any wonder that, when placed face-to-face again, now as an adult, with the doctor that was the catalyst to so many of her issues, that her myriad of emotions that had built up over the years concentrated into anger and revenge towards this one cruel, uncaring woman? Not in my mind!
The structure of the story - alternating chapters that either told Rachel's history or showed Rachel confronting Dr. Solomon and deciding what to do with her newfound control over the woman - was at first slightly confusing. There are no date indicators at the beginning of each chapter to assist the reader in knowing when and where the next chapter is going to take place and it is only once the reader dives in that they are able to use context clues to figure it out. Once the alternating chapters became a pattern it was easier to figure out and actually helped keep suspense within the two storylines building, but in the beginning especially I would have preferred that time indicator noted at the beginning of the chapter as is often done in historical fiction that goes back and forth in time.
An aspect of the story I was not expecting was the romantic relationship between Rachel and her friend and lover Naomi. Including this aspect, which showed in historical context how unaccepted this relationship was at the time and the isolation and danger that came with it, was a perfect addition to the other threads of Rachel's life that caused the feelings of loneliness and isolation that built over her lifetime and affected the woman she became. I could not help wishing Rachel and Naomi could be happy and open about their love and feeling like this might have, at least in part, helped Rachel to heal from much of the trauma she experienced as a child, but I also appreciate the author's adherence to historical fact and her willingness to show how hard it was for these women to live and love in a time they just weren't accepted in.
Overall I think Orphan # 8 is an exceptionally fascinating story. Rachel is unique and brave and admirable for surviving the life she was handed as well as for what she fought to build within that life. While I don't necessarily believe Rachel got the ending she deserved I think the ending was very realistic and did have touches of hope and better things to come. The author also includes an expansive "About the Book" section at the end that gives an in depth look at the real history behind the story and how that history is connected to the author herself and this served to expand my appreciation of the story and the history even more. I would definitely recommend the book to any historical fiction lover who is looking for something different from the everyday and a heroine unlike any they have likely come across before.
What Did I Think About the Cover?
I like it a lot! The colors and texture remind me of an old photograph and the decision to leave out the little girl's face but show her full shadow really helps highlight the idea that these children were little more than shadows to many people they came into contact with. Their identities, in large part, were stolen from them and they were often treated like just another number. The solitary figure with her little battered suitcase is quite a sad and lonely picture as well. I think it fits the storyline of Rachel's childhood very well.
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a free copy of Orphan Number Eight in exchange for an honest review! Be sure to continue below for information on the author, the blog tour and where you can grab your own copy!
About the Author
Kim van Alkemade was born in New York. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So to Speak, and CutBank. She teaches writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Find out more about Kim at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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Orphan Number Eight Blog Tour Schedule
Tuesday, July 7th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Thursday, July 9th: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, July 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 16th: Gspotsylvania: Musings from a Spotsylvania Dog and Bird Mom
Monday, July 20th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, July 21st: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, July 22nd: Novel Escapes
Thursday, July 23rd: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, July 24th: As I turn the pages
Friday, July 24th: A Literary Vacation
Monday, July 27th: The Reader’s Hollow
Tuesday, July 28th: Mel’s Shelves
Wednesday, July 29th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, July 30th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, July 30th: Time 2 Read
Friday, July 31st: FictionZeal
Monday, August 3rd: Cold Read
Thursday, August 6th: Books on the Table
TBD: Kahakai Kitchen