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In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had. Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone. Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.


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In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had. Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone. Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.

30 review for Orphan Number Eight

  1. 5 out of 5

    v

    On the back cover the publisher describes this as "A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City's Jewish orphanages". And while this novel does deliver a degree of "historical fiction" on that subject, I felt like there was a hidden agenda being presented that the publisher chose not to mention. Perhaps the author felt that making the Rachel, the main character, a lesbian, would garner more sympathy to her plight as an abused orphan. It actually detrac On the back cover the publisher describes this as "A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City's Jewish orphanages". And while this novel does deliver a degree of "historical fiction" on that subject, I felt like there was a hidden agenda being presented that the publisher chose not to mention. Perhaps the author felt that making the Rachel, the main character, a lesbian, would garner more sympathy to her plight as an abused orphan. It actually detracted from the events that seemed more crucial to the story. Silly, contrived scenes had me rolling my eyes. By the end of chapter 6, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading. However, I was interested in what drew me to the book to begin with, so I forced myself to continue. But by the last chapter, when the writing turned needlessly explicit, I was just done with it and gave up. The author does have talent, but I feel like she allowed a personal agenda get in the way of what could have been a more meaningful novel. I would have liked to have read more about her relationships with her brother and those who helped her along the way. There was so much more depth that could have added regarding the aspects of vengeance vs. forgiveness. It just felt like the author breezed past these opportunities. I appreciate that goodreads does ask for and allow us to give our honest opinion freely and hope that you'll keep that in mind. I realize not everyone will feel the same way about this novel and that's okay. But, I do wish I had found a review that had revealed the direction the story goes in before buying this book. I cant help but feel this book belongs in another genre than historical fiction. A better written cover synopsis on the part of the publisher would be appreciated too.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    A book inspired by true events is always intriguing to me because as I'm reading it I can't help but wonder about the specifics . Who of the characters is based on real people and how much of the plot is real or imagined ? There are big ethical issues at the center of this story . Rachel , a nurse at the Old Hebrews Home in mid 1950's discovers that her new patient is someone from her past . Flashbacks to four year old Rachel in The Hebrew Infant Home show her suffering at the hands of cruel doc A book inspired by true events is always intriguing to me because as I'm reading it I can't help but wonder about the specifics . Who of the characters is based on real people and how much of the plot is real or imagined ? There are big ethical issues at the center of this story . Rachel , a nurse at the Old Hebrews Home in mid 1950's discovers that her new patient is someone from her past . Flashbacks to four year old Rachel in The Hebrew Infant Home show her suffering at the hands of cruel doctors who perform medical experiments . She realizes that the patient was one of her doctors. Will Rachel take revenge now that she has the opportunity? Chapters alternate between her present as an adult and as a four year old in the orphanage. The flashback chapters were very difficult to read , sickening actually. Imprisoned in a crib behind glass she becomes a victim of cruel experimentation that leaves her without hair , which won't grow as s result of exposure to X-rays as a child. There are further physical implications when Rachel discovers she may have breast cancer. The descriptions of what is done to Rachel is chilling, and so very sad to think that was done to innocent children , already enduring tragedies of losing parents . Administering chloroform, strapping them down , force feeding barium - it was heartbreaking to read what Rachel and other children endured .This is reminiscent of what we know about medical experiments done to the Jews in the concentration camps. How shameful that this was allowed here in this country . I know there are other examples of this and this is equally horrific. While all of this has happened to Rachel, she is also struggling with her brother Sam moving in and out of her life when she always thought he would be there to protect her. In addition we see her coming to terms with and understanding her sexuality as a young girl and as an adult having to hide her love for another woman from those around her . This is a terrific effort for a debut novel and Kim van Alkemade has told a heart wrenching story that grabbed me from the first chapter. The author does tell us in a note that the story was inspired by her grandfather and his mother who are indeed characters in the book . Whether or not Rachel was a real person doesn't matter since Rachel represents one of the many orphan children who suffered in the name of medical research. Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss .

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Great historical snapshot of orphanages and the medical experimentation occurring on the orphans at the time. Told in two timelines; when Rachel is 4 and enters the orphanage and experimentation begins, and then Rachel is forty something and working as a geriatric nurse when a new patient comes under her care - the very doctor that caused so much suffering for Rachel in the orphanage. Both stories unfold and the reader quickly realizes the horrible conditions of said orphanages, although they ma Great historical snapshot of orphanages and the medical experimentation occurring on the orphans at the time. Told in two timelines; when Rachel is 4 and enters the orphanage and experimentation begins, and then Rachel is forty something and working as a geriatric nurse when a new patient comes under her care - the very doctor that caused so much suffering for Rachel in the orphanage. Both stories unfold and the reader quickly realizes the horrible conditions of said orphanages, although they may have been preferable to living in the street. Rachel is flooded with memories of her time in the orphanage and how she suffered, particularly subjected to radiation exposure over and over again. She is then faced with a dilemma of showing payback to this doctor or forgiveness and professionalism. Great historical information, well written in the perspective of a child hungry for attention. The downside was the lack of character development and contrived situations like the way Rachel becomes an orphan. Can a father figure be more flat and predictably selfish? Just not believable. Then there is a surprise storyline that Rachel is a lesbian. Surprise sloppy groping with a stranger yet longing for her lover to return to her. Soooooo, was this a story that informed the reader about the medical experiments on children in orphanages or was the author contriving and inserting her political statement? The latter? I'm just not a fan. More than that, it just didn't fit with the story. It was a meandering that distracted from the core of the story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Orphan #8 is a standalone, historical fiction novel written by English professor and now author: Kim van Alkemade. This is her first published novel. The synopsis of Orphan #8 immediately intrigued me and as I began the audiobook, I felt engaged right away. The main character: Rachel Rabinowitz is a work of fiction, but her story is based on very real people, places, and events from 1920's America. Orphan #8 follows Rachel through alternating timeframes, first when she is a young child who has b Orphan #8 is a standalone, historical fiction novel written by English professor and now author: Kim van Alkemade. This is her first published novel. The synopsis of Orphan #8 immediately intrigued me and as I began the audiobook, I felt engaged right away. The main character: Rachel Rabinowitz is a work of fiction, but her story is based on very real people, places, and events from 1920's America. Orphan #8 follows Rachel through alternating timeframes, first when she is a young child who has been committed to an orphanage and then as an adult who continues to be physically and emotionally haunted by her young life experiences. This setup creates two distinct storylines that alternate as the story progresses. In her book, Ms. Alkemade has layered many important elements for readers to reflect on. The ones I noted include: the treatment of children in social services, the loss of cultural/ spiritual/ familial identity often experienced by children in care, the emotional and social stressors commonly associated with appearing physically different than others, historical views towards women's independence and sexuality, the beautiful sense of connectedness felt among the Jewish people, and the power we all possess to hold blame or let go, to seek retribution or offer forgiveness, to inflict harm or show mercy. I enjoyed Orphan #8 and am so glad I read it. Check it out! Note: Ms. Alkemade spent eight years researching and writing this novel and it appears to be a deeply personal project for her and her family. I read her entire website, amazed at the multiple true stories that inspired the direction of this book. If you end up reading Orphan #8, I highly recommend that you check out Ms. Alkemade's website HERE to gain some insight into how personal this was for her. I like the book even more now because of it. My favorite quote: “To Sam I said, “Sometimes I ask myself if there's any limit to the harm that people can do to each other.” “No”, he said. “There's no limit.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I really enjoy historical fiction books that expose me to real history I never knew about. I can't say that I'm surprised that medical professionals exploited orphans for medical research. It's much easier to use someone who cannot fight back for themselves and has no one to fight for them. I understand that Dr. Solomon and the real doctors like her thought the good that would come from the research would outweigh whatever bad things may have happened to these children, but to dehumanize even on I really enjoy historical fiction books that expose me to real history I never knew about. I can't say that I'm surprised that medical professionals exploited orphans for medical research. It's much easier to use someone who cannot fight back for themselves and has no one to fight for them. I understand that Dr. Solomon and the real doctors like her thought the good that would come from the research would outweigh whatever bad things may have happened to these children, but to dehumanize even one person for the sake of the common good is not worth the cost. My husband and I have considered adopting a child instead of having a child who is biologically ours. This story most definitely made me want to make that a reality even more than what I was already considering. I cannot even begin to image how difficult and possibly damaging it must be to grow up with no one. It was clear from early in the story that Rachael craved female affection... and how could she not? Even when her mother was alive, they weren't especially close. I was a little put off by how the author made just about every man Rachael came into contact with a jerk to the extreme. Are there bad men in the world? Absolutely. But there are also a lot of good men who would never dream of exploiting or hurting anyone for personal gain or personal desires.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Seems to me that the jacket summary of a book should include the major themes of the book, but this one does not. The fact there is a major lesbian story line in this book isn't a spoiler but should be made known to potential readers. Then, the author decides to include explicit bedroom scenes and that ruined it for me completely. I liked the premise of Rachel coming face to face with the Dr. who performed x-ray experiments on her as a child but this arc was overshadowed and treated as almost an Seems to me that the jacket summary of a book should include the major themes of the book, but this one does not. The fact there is a major lesbian story line in this book isn't a spoiler but should be made known to potential readers. Then, the author decides to include explicit bedroom scenes and that ruined it for me completely. I liked the premise of Rachel coming face to face with the Dr. who performed x-ray experiments on her as a child but this arc was overshadowed and treated as almost an afterthought.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Raven Haired Girl

    I was hoping the narrative would concentrate primarily on Dr Solomon and Rachel’s encounter along with flashbacks to her orphanage days, instead it laid a heavier hand on Rachel and her relationship with her girlfriend. I wasn’t expecting a plot focusing on romance, needless to say I was letdown. The plot was too busy for my taste. I wish Sam and Rachel were developed more, we were merely granted a sampling of their personalities limiting our familiarity on a personal level, a picture painted of I was hoping the narrative would concentrate primarily on Dr Solomon and Rachel’s encounter along with flashbacks to her orphanage days, instead it laid a heavier hand on Rachel and her relationship with her girlfriend. I wasn’t expecting a plot focusing on romance, needless to say I was letdown. The plot was too busy for my taste. I wish Sam and Rachel were developed more, we were merely granted a sampling of their personalities limiting our familiarity on a personal level, a picture painted of what they endured not their essence. Disturbing to realize medical experiments were performed on orphaned children. The entire orphanage experience is heartbreaking. I found myself questioning what would I do if in Rachel’s shoes, love it when a plot possess a dilemma, forcing me to question my thoughts and actions to those of characters involved. Super fast paced read with lots going on posing several questions and what would you do scenarios. For this and other reviews along with giveaways visit http://ravenhairedgirl.com

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Although I give credit to van Alkemade for bringing history to light, this book would have been so much better in the hands of an author such as Kristin Hannah or Jodi Picoult - an author who can tell the story without alienating or even offending the reader. This book had such potential, and for me it was ruined by the characters and lack of development. Very jarring scenes stuck in the storyline that broke the flow of the story and took away from the historical knowledge she was sharing. I fel Although I give credit to van Alkemade for bringing history to light, this book would have been so much better in the hands of an author such as Kristin Hannah or Jodi Picoult - an author who can tell the story without alienating or even offending the reader. This book had such potential, and for me it was ruined by the characters and lack of development. Very jarring scenes stuck in the storyline that broke the flow of the story and took away from the historical knowledge she was sharing. I felt almost like the author hated men - and maybe she thought we would feel that way as she tries to make amends by having Rachel reflect toward the end that not all men are bad, like her brother and Vic. That was a last minute "Hail Mary" to save face in a book where men are depicted horribly. I only kept reading this book for the historical information and that ended a little over 1/2 way through the book. And, I disliked Rachel from the very first pages when I found her to be an annoying, screaming, brat of a child. Her lying, manipulative, deceitful ways continued. I never felt sympathy for this character. I did feel sympathy/empathy and anguish for those in real life, but this character did nothing to endear me. The only character interaction that was remotely believable and satisfying was when Rachel stated to the doctor that she felt the treatment she endured was similar to what the Jews in concentration camps endured. This could have been such a wonderful book had it been developed properly. It seemed almost like she tried to infuse too much of the 2015 society into 1950's to advance her own agenda. Read this only for the historical knowledge that is being brought to light. Better yet, just flip to the back section and read her research and check out some other books about it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Connie G

    Author Kim van Alkemade was researching her own family history when she came across a purchase for wigs for eight young children who had lost their hair after X-ray treatments in a New York Jewish orphanage. The powerless healthy orphans had been used in medical research to see if X-rays could shrink the tonsils. Orphan #8 is Rachel Rabinowitz, a fictional character who received the largest dose of radiation as the subject of Dr Mildred Solomon's research. Fast forward to 1954: Dr Solomon is admi Author Kim van Alkemade was researching her own family history when she came across a purchase for wigs for eight young children who had lost their hair after X-ray treatments in a New York Jewish orphanage. The powerless healthy orphans had been used in medical research to see if X-rays could shrink the tonsils. Orphan #8 is Rachel Rabinowitz, a fictional character who received the largest dose of radiation as the subject of Dr Mildred Solomon's research. Fast forward to 1954: Dr Solomon is admitted to the hospice unit where Rachel works as a nurse. Dr Solomon's terminal bone cancer was caused by her exposure to X-rays as a radiologist. Rachel now has a serious health problem due to the intense X-rays received when she was a toddler. The book alternates between Rachel's early life and 1954 as it reveals the secrets of Rachel's past and the choices she made. Rachel confronts the doctor, hoping for an explanation and an apology. The tables are turned in 1954--Rachel is the person with power since she administers the medication, and Dr Solomon is a powerless patient in pain. Rachel has the choice of taking revenge or offering forgiveness. We would cringe today over how large institutions treated orphans in the 1920s, but there was a huge need for orphanages during that hard economic time. The book presents many moral/ethical issues, a look at history during the Depression and World War II, the role of women in that era, and the difficulty of a same sex relationship. Orphan #8 is an interesting, thought-provoking book with book club material at the end of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maya White-Lurie

    Though I was initially startled by the switch in point of view, the narrative has great flow. Characters are complex, and I was kept in suspense. Also, it's excellent to see some lesbian representation in historical fiction. Though I was initially startled by the switch in point of view, the narrative has great flow. Characters are complex, and I was kept in suspense. Also, it's excellent to see some lesbian representation in historical fiction.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Orphan #8 is based on historical events that occurred in orphanages, much like the LSD testing on soldiers and prisoners in the 1950s to determine the effects on the men. Instead of LSD, the children had horrible experiments performed on their bodies, ravaging them using introduced measles, pertussis, scurvy, and radiation to track digestion to possible use as a noninvasive tonsillectomy. There are two timelines; 1954 and beginning in 1918 or so. The problems I had with the story begin when Rach Orphan #8 is based on historical events that occurred in orphanages, much like the LSD testing on soldiers and prisoners in the 1950s to determine the effects on the men. Instead of LSD, the children had horrible experiments performed on their bodies, ravaging them using introduced measles, pertussis, scurvy, and radiation to track digestion to possible use as a noninvasive tonsillectomy. There are two timelines; 1954 and beginning in 1918 or so. The problems I had with the story begin when Rachel is 4 years old and the circumstances that lead to her becoming orphaned. Sure, it could happen, but it seemed very forced and her father was pigeon holed into an unbelievable caricature who was selfish and had no real regard for his wife and children. It was like the author objectified the father figure without developing him. Interesting that Freud is later brought up. The story lacks character development of any male figure beyond the perfunctory, one dimensional. So Rachel grows up to become a nurse in a geriatric Jewish home and a new patient shows up. The very doctor who subjected her to the worst of the radiation exposure. Great moral dilemma as more of Rachel's horrific childhood is told in alternating chapters and, knowing the common knowledge of extended radiation exposure, cringing at the horrors she endured. On top of the medical experimentation, children were not people and their social and emotional needs were discarded. That really was enough story to engage the reader but then the author contrived the story of Rachel's homosexuality into it. Ummm, okay? I'm not a big fan of gratuitous heterosexual scenes that seem arbitrary and don't contribute anything to the storyline. But the sudden homosexual scene at the library, although not gratuitous, it was sudden and didn't fit the rest of the book. Was the author educating the reader about the medical experimentation on helpless children or was she making her own political statement? Was her purpose information or affirmation? It didn't fit in this particular story. As much as I found the information about the experiments on the orphans to be enlightening, I found the lack of character development and the introduction of homosexuality to weaken the story. I realize it's politically unpopular to share an opinion contrary to accepting all kinds of love, but for once I would appreciate some degree of respect for having a differing opinion. Had I known about the homosexual aspect, I wouldn't have read the book. Once it was introduced, I wanted more information about the experiments and the children but was very disappointed in having to wade through Rachel's love affair and sloppy fondling of a strange woman in the library. Otherwise, I would have recommended it to book clubs. Now, not so much.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Sigh, I so wanted this to be something other than it was. The premise is intriguing and has promise. But the novel became something different for me. Randomly, there is a homosexual sub-theme in the novel, which is essentially the main theme. Obviously I take no issue with homosexuality in literature (in fact, I don't think the representation is enough), but it just didn't need to be here. It did not work, and it did not add anything to the story. The plot should have already been interesting eno Sigh, I so wanted this to be something other than it was. The premise is intriguing and has promise. But the novel became something different for me. Randomly, there is a homosexual sub-theme in the novel, which is essentially the main theme. Obviously I take no issue with homosexuality in literature (in fact, I don't think the representation is enough), but it just didn't need to be here. It did not work, and it did not add anything to the story. The plot should have already been interesting enough to run with. Something that irritated me was the contrived usage of "she" as a reference to Rachel's lover throughout the book. It acted as a ploy to keep us guessing who the lover was, but I didn't pick up the book expecting there to be a love story, so I felt a bit annoyed and cheated. Something I enjoyed was the blend of narrative voices. The author uses first person narration as well as third person limited narration. She also often changes up the time line, jumping from past to present from one chapter to the next. Normally I wouldn't enjoy this, but the author managed to make it work here, and I think it's because she changes the narrative style when she changes the timeline. My least favourite narration is first-person, so it was nice to have it broken up into pieces, making it more palatable. That being said, van Alkemade sometimes inadvertently switched from third-person limited and third-person omniscient narration and it really threw me off and confused me. The first third of the novel really had me hooked, but then it lost traction and I started to lose interest in Rachel and the story. I'm sure I missed a lot of detail because I would read pages and pages while thinking of something else and then feel too lazy to go back and re-read what I'd missed. In the end, this was a page-turner, but for all the wrong reasons. I turned the pages to get it over with, not because I cared about the story.

  13. 5 out of 5

    ☮Karen

    Book club read #9 Sept 2017. If you had a chance at revenge for something awful that someone did to you, and you wouldn't get caught, plus no one would ever suspect what really happened, would you go for the revenge or opt to show mercy instead? Rachel Rabinowitz, raised in a Jewish orphanage where experiments with radiation were performed on the children, years later finds herself nurse for the doctor who carried out the "treatments." Rachel has had many issues in her difficult life, but this ma Book club read #9 Sept 2017. If you had a chance at revenge for something awful that someone did to you, and you wouldn't get caught, plus no one would ever suspect what really happened, would you go for the revenge or opt to show mercy instead? Rachel Rabinowitz, raised in a Jewish orphanage where experiments with radiation were performed on the children, years later finds herself nurse for the doctor who carried out the "treatments." Rachel has had many issues in her difficult life, but this may be the biggest yet. I've read this for a book club discussion that is coming up, and what I want to discuss most is not the revenge aspect, but what makes up Rachel's character -- how she went from a sweet little four year old to a deceitful teenager and adult. She was a conundrum to be sure. I think our discussion should be most interesting.

  14. 5 out of 5

    RoseMary Achey

    When Rachel Rabinowitz is four years old a tragedy befalls her family and she and her older brother are sent to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. Rachel remains at the Asylum until age 15. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum was one of the best known and most generously endowed American orphanages. Between 1860 and 1919, some 13,500 children were admitted to the home. Few children, however, were adopted, since most were actually half-orphans, members of a family which one parent (usually the father) ha When Rachel Rabinowitz is four years old a tragedy befalls her family and she and her older brother are sent to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. Rachel remains at the Asylum until age 15. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum was one of the best known and most generously endowed American orphanages. Between 1860 and 1919, some 13,500 children were admitted to the home. Few children, however, were adopted, since most were actually half-orphans, members of a family which one parent (usually the father) had deserted and which the surviving parent could not support. The orphanage had a capacity of 1,755 children. It was self-sufficient enough that it was able to survive for a week on its own after it was cut off during the Blizzard of 1888. After a dysentery outbreak in 1898, caused by impurities in the city's water supply, left seven children dead, the building installed its own water filtration system. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 not a single child in the orphanage died. In this fictional account, while at the Asylum Rachel is the subject of several dangerous medical research experiments that leave her permanently disfigured. We follow Rachel's life through adulthood and continue to see how these medical tests have a profound and lasting effect on her life. As an adult nurse, by chance, Rachel is assigned to care for the dying Doctor that inflicted so much pain and suffering on her as a small child. As Rachel cares for the old doctor, she teeters between revenge and mercy all the while praying for some form of acknowledgment and apology. There is so much for a book club to discuss with this novel! The only potential stumbling block I see in this book moving to the top of various best sellers lists is the protagonist's personal life. As the publishers write-up states "A stunning debut novel in the vein of Sarah Waters' historical fiction.....”. If you have read Sarah Waters, you will understand what I mean. This book is scheduled to release on July 7, 2015. Place it on your wish list now, submit an pre-order, you will thoroughly enjoy this historical fiction.

  15. 5 out of 5

    MissSusie

    I didn’t feel like either the current or past storyline was fleshed out enough, at times it felt disjointed and I think it was because of not knowing enough about the characters. However I did find the story fascinating I never knew anything about these test done at orphanages’ also after reading some stories on the authors website I really wish she would have went deeper into these characters I feel like she just brushed the surface and I wish I knew more. I hated the “romance” aspect of this bo I didn’t feel like either the current or past storyline was fleshed out enough, at times it felt disjointed and I think it was because of not knowing enough about the characters. However I did find the story fascinating I never knew anything about these test done at orphanages’ also after reading some stories on the authors website I really wish she would have went deeper into these characters I feel like she just brushed the surface and I wish I knew more. I hated the “romance” aspect of this book every time she grabbed someone’s face and pulled them into a kiss I was no longer in the story and Rachel’s sexual orientation had absolutely nothing to do with it , if she had been grabbing men’s faces I would have felt exactly the same. To me there was no reason for these it added nothing to the story and in fact detracted from it. I can’t put my finger on what it is I don’t like about the narration, I’m not sure if it’s the tone, cadence or accent that I don’t like but there were times when the narration really annoyed me and other times I didn’t mind it. I am not sure who narrated what either so it may be that I like one narrator over the other but I am just not sure. This book was okay; I liked the storyline about the Orphans Home even though I wish I knew more. I guess in the end this book just fell flat for me. 2 ½ Stars

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Maybe I shouldn't be, but I am flabbergasted that the majority of the 1- and 2-star reviews this book received seem to be solely based on the reviewers' discomfort with the fact they were forced to sympathize with a lesbian -- had the book's description, or the first few chapters, made clear the main character's sexual orientation, they would never have been forced to read explicit scenes about two women kissing. (Imagine!) But no, the author cleverly sucked them in before unleashing her "politi Maybe I shouldn't be, but I am flabbergasted that the majority of the 1- and 2-star reviews this book received seem to be solely based on the reviewers' discomfort with the fact they were forced to sympathize with a lesbian -- had the book's description, or the first few chapters, made clear the main character's sexual orientation, they would never have been forced to read explicit scenes about two women kissing. (Imagine!) But no, the author cleverly sucked them in before unleashing her "political agenda," the sneaky she-beast. This was a beautiful and captivating, if disturbing, book. I, personally, was more disgusted by the descriptions of violence (not at all explicit -- the writing perfectly straddled the line between descriptive and gratuitous) and the doctors who experimented on orphaned children, but ya know, you gotta watch out for those illicit PG descriptions of budding same-sex attraction too. Rachel is a complicated character, her inner self not entirely reflected in the person the other characters clearly see when they look at her. The author does a beautiful job in drawing out the tangled emotions, motivations and morals behind actions that can look so black and white from the outside.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    29/9 - This is very interesting, but a bit hard to read, thinking about doctors literally experimenting on disadvantaged children because it's interesting and because they can (due to the lack of a need for parental consent for orphans) is disturbing for me. The damage these X-rays do to the children, in the short and long term is horrifying to read about. While this is a fictional story, it reads very much like a descendant's account of their family member's real life experience. It doesn't fee 29/9 - This is very interesting, but a bit hard to read, thinking about doctors literally experimenting on disadvantaged children because it's interesting and because they can (due to the lack of a need for parental consent for orphans) is disturbing for me. The damage these X-rays do to the children, in the short and long term is horrifying to read about. While this is a fictional story, it reads very much like a descendant's account of their family member's real life experience. It doesn't feel like the author imagined it in her head. While the subject matter is of great interest and emotional impact, the writing is a bit hit and miss. The writing in the 'child-aged Rachel' chapters are quite different-sounding in maturity level. It's almost like those chapters are written by a different author. I understand the need for a different 'voice' for the 3rd person chapters, but why does the 'voice' need to sound like it was written by a teenager? That is irritating, but won't put me off finishing the book. To be continued... SPOILERS/SPOILERS/SPOILERS/SPOILERS 2/10 - I lost a bit of respect and sympathy for Rachel when she betrayed Naomi. I know she has a terrible fate awaiting her, but I was very surprised when Naomi turned out to be the 'she/her' that Rachel was trying to get a hold of and anxiously waiting to have return. I expected the betrayal would mean Naomi wouldn't want to see or speak to Rachel ever again (I don't think I would). My grandma went through something similar to Rachel's experience. When she was in her early twenties she volunteered in a hospital, nursing patients with tuberculosis and to make sure that the nurses didn't contract TB themselves they had X-rays of their lungs done every few weeks to check for signs of the disease. Thirty yeas later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, and there was no such thing as reconstructive surgery in the fifties. She lived the rest of her life with no breasts, a small amount of padding (kind of like an insertable shoulder pad) used to fill out a bra to give her a facsimile of her pre-surgery shape. Ten years pass and she's diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has a complete hysterectomy. Another ten and she's diagnosed with bone cancer and goes through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she battled the cancer for the rest of her life. Thank goodness cancer treatments have become far more advanced and targeted these days and thank goodness doctors now realise how dangerous unnecessary X-rays can be. With a book that's a combination of historical fiction and a memoir of her grandfather's time spent in an orphanage (recreated through the secondary character of Vic, a friend to Rachel and her brother Sam), van Alkemade has told a very interesting, and unique story that didn't go how I was expecting it to. Just like van Alkemade said in the 'extras' at the back of the book, as soon as you mention Jewish children and doctors experimenting on them most people's thoughts jump to WWII and the Nazis, mine certainly did. So, with this not really having anything to do with the Nazis (despite what Rachel tried to accuse Dr Solomon of), it wasn't the war/concentration camp book I was expecting it to be. I really enjoyed the story even though some of the writing sounded needlessly immature. As I said in my review for Black Rabbit Hall, I usually tend to like books that switch back and forth between one time and another, using the time separation to create mystery in the plot. I will definitely look out for more by Kim van Alkemade at the library. PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge: A Popular Author's First Book

  18. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    This was not the book that I was expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be kind of creepy. Well, way more creepy. But just because my expectations were not met does not mean I did not enjoy the book. It was more nonfiction with fiction thrown in here and there. It was informative, heartbreaking, eye opening, sad, emotional and compelling. Orphans were being used as mice for experiments. While this story was a little extreme, it brought out the fact that this was commonplace back in the 1920's This was not the book that I was expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be kind of creepy. Well, way more creepy. But just because my expectations were not met does not mean I did not enjoy the book. It was more nonfiction with fiction thrown in here and there. It was informative, heartbreaking, eye opening, sad, emotional and compelling. Orphans were being used as mice for experiments. While this story was a little extreme, it brought out the fact that this was commonplace back in the 1920's and 1930's. It also touched on the stigma of lesbianism and how (hard to believe) today's standards and practices have come a long way. I did enjoy reading this book and I really felt sorry for Rachel. Times were tough when she was growing up and although she did have a hard life, she really did luck out a lot of times. I truly do recommend this book if your into human feelings, tragedies and fortunes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nayla Feghaly

    4.5 stars Such an intense, emotional particular story ! I enjoyed every page of this book. The build up of the characters is so good that you can sympathize with each one of them. The book tackles different taboo subjects. The book cover is so expressive! Highly recommended !

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    An intriguing story based on historical facts and drawn from the author's family history. The story shifts between Rachel as an adult in the 1950's and Rachel as a child in the 1920's. Following a tragedy, Rachel Rabinowitz finds herself, and her brother Sam, placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan. The two are separated, and Rachel is placed in the Infant Home. It is there that she finds herself subjected to medical experimentation for the purpose of research. Vying for a place in a man An intriguing story based on historical facts and drawn from the author's family history. The story shifts between Rachel as an adult in the 1950's and Rachel as a child in the 1920's. Following a tragedy, Rachel Rabinowitz finds herself, and her brother Sam, placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan. The two are separated, and Rachel is placed in the Infant Home. It is there that she finds herself subjected to medical experimentation for the purpose of research. Vying for a place in a man's world, Dr. Mildred Solomon is determined to be published and recognized. Rachel is one of her test subjects. Dr' Solomon's x-ray experimentation leaves Rachel hairless and at risk for future complications. When she encounters Dr. Solomon helpless and in need of her care at the Old Hebrew's Home, Rachel is uncertain how to react. She is now a nurse, dedicated to her patients. But with Dr. Solomon, is it revenge or an apology she seeks? A great quote that addresses Rachel's dilemma: "Instead I was alone with Mildred Solomon. I felt her eyes on my heaving back. I hadn't wanted her to witness the pain she'd caused me, had I wanted only to visit that pain on her. A week ago, I would have argued that the world was divided between those capable of inflicting pain and those whose fate it was to be hurt, that Mildred Solomon and I were on opposite rims of that canyon. I knew now any one of us could cross over. It wasn't innate-only the choices we made determined which side we lived on. From whichever point one started, stepping out on that rickety bridge was a risk, planks threaded together with twine, the sway in the middle fearsome. Exhilarating as it had been to be suspended above that chasm, rules of time and space and right and wrong all falling away, one look down had been enough to sober me. I scurried back to my starting place, unable to finish the crossing." The story also addresses other social issues and prejudices that Rachel must navigate to find her place in the world. While the book is about atrocities performed on the most vulnerable of our society, it also exemplifies love and forgiveness.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Anze

    When Sam and Rachel Rabinowitz are suddenly orphaned, they are taken to the Jewish children´s home. Being older, Sam goes into a different home than Rachel. What already was a traumatic experience takes a harsher turn when Rachel is chosen as "material" for research and needlessly exposed to radiation. Years later, Rachel is a nurse in a Jewish geriatric home. On one of her shifts, Rachel is shocked to learn that her new patient is none other than the doctor that experimented on her. Dealing wit When Sam and Rachel Rabinowitz are suddenly orphaned, they are taken to the Jewish children´s home. Being older, Sam goes into a different home than Rachel. What already was a traumatic experience takes a harsher turn when Rachel is chosen as "material" for research and needlessly exposed to radiation. Years later, Rachel is a nurse in a Jewish geriatric home. On one of her shifts, Rachel is shocked to learn that her new patient is none other than the doctor that experimented on her. Dealing with her emotional and physical scars, Rachel must confront the past. This novel has me torn. On one hand, I found the historical aspect enlightening. Children in orphanages were subjected to radiation and needless tests for the sake of science and since they had no family to claim them, they made for good "material". While doctor Mildred Solomon (the doctor that exposed Rachel to excessive x-rays ) is fictional, her character is based on doctor Elise Fox. Doctor Fox along with doctor Alfred Hess (the lead doctor) did indeed take advantage of the children in their charge. Doctor Hess going as far as witholding orange juice to bring on the onset of rickets and scurvy. Instead of addressing them by name, the children were given numbers. I did like the way in which van Alkemade compared the treatment of the children in the home to the treatment of Jews in the concentration camps. Now, characterization was somewhat flat and predictable. This novel explores revenge and justice, forgiveness and mercy. I would have loved to see a deeper exploration into the matter. A few times, plot events seemed forced and rushed. I will say, I found the end fitting. All and all, a interesting read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Virginia Myers

    This book was a disappointment to me. Reading the publisher's description did not prepare me for the lifestyle of the primary character and I had problems maintaining an interest in the pages containing a discussion of this part of her life. On the other hand, the discussion of Rachel's early life did educate me about a part of medical history that I had not encountered before. And one of my goals in reading is to learn something from my reading experience. It is my understanding, from the book, This book was a disappointment to me. Reading the publisher's description did not prepare me for the lifestyle of the primary character and I had problems maintaining an interest in the pages containing a discussion of this part of her life. On the other hand, the discussion of Rachel's early life did educate me about a part of medical history that I had not encountered before. And one of my goals in reading is to learn something from my reading experience. It is my understanding, from the book, that these things did actually happen. How sad that these children were robbed of a normal life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    megan

    I began Orphan #8 as a book club read - only knowing it was historical fiction about Jewish orphans and medical experiments. It's really more of a psychological coming of age story, that just happens to be set in the past. And it would seem that from the description on the back cover, modern readers would find little in common with a Jewish orphan girl exploited in the name of science. Yet, van Alkemade brings us a story of abandonment, betrayal, revenge, love, hope - set in a society with issue I began Orphan #8 as a book club read - only knowing it was historical fiction about Jewish orphans and medical experiments. It's really more of a psychological coming of age story, that just happens to be set in the past. And it would seem that from the description on the back cover, modern readers would find little in common with a Jewish orphan girl exploited in the name of science. Yet, van Alkemade brings us a story of abandonment, betrayal, revenge, love, hope - set in a society with issues we struggle with yet today - equality, sexuality, sexual violence. I only wonder if there would have been more 4 and 5 star ratings if the main character was in a heterosexual relationship, with less accusations of a personal agenda.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    At least it's a quick read. The moral dilemma highlighted in the blurb on the back cover is almost nonexistent. I expected the story to focus on Rachel's confrontation with the doctor who experimented on her, but their relationship occupies only a handful of the 300+ pages. Rachel's arguments and anger with her abuser are thin and flimsy, and she is easily dismissed by the doctor. Her emotional and logical reactions are uninteresting and certainly do not warrant a book. This novel is really abou At least it's a quick read. The moral dilemma highlighted in the blurb on the back cover is almost nonexistent. I expected the story to focus on Rachel's confrontation with the doctor who experimented on her, but their relationship occupies only a handful of the 300+ pages. Rachel's arguments and anger with her abuser are thin and flimsy, and she is easily dismissed by the doctor. Her emotional and logical reactions are uninteresting and certainly do not warrant a book. This novel is really about everything else; her final decision regarding the doctor is a sidebar.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Possible spoilers related to character. She had said there was no comparison between her work at the Infant Home and those terrible experiments in the camps,and she was right, of course she was. But did the children on Dr. Menegle's table feel any differently than I did on hers? No matter her motives, the way she used us was the same. No wonder she couldn't apologize. It would destroy a person, wouldn't it, to admit to doing that kind of harm? Author Kim van Alkemade's historical fiction debut, Possible spoilers related to character. She had said there was no comparison between her work at the Infant Home and those terrible experiments in the camps,and she was right, of course she was. But did the children on Dr. Menegle's table feel any differently than I did on hers? No matter her motives, the way she used us was the same. No wonder she couldn't apologize. It would destroy a person, wouldn't it, to admit to doing that kind of harm? Author Kim van Alkemade's historical fiction debut, drawn from events surrounding members of her family, is dramatically heartbreaking. The feeling I had when reading Orphan #8 was the same in which I used to feel as a teen when watching a movie based on an actual event. I used to think " It couldn't have been like that, could it? People couldn't have really thought.(fill in blank)." Of course, I'm sure many of us have experienced that feeling of disbelief or horror. That's what makes reading Orphan #8 so difficult as a reading experience. Because Alkemade is presenting the story of medical experiments on children, a topic that is sure to stir each reader's moral compass. As eager as I was to turn the pages and find out how adult Rachel copes with the realization of what happened to her as a child, while also confronting the doctor that did this to her was emotional. I'm a schoolteacher at an elementary/high school and an aunt of two little boys, ages 3 and 1. So, 4 year old Rachel's innocence and my adult comprehension of what was happening to her and the other children hit close to home. A similar stance I had while reading Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain. I felt that adult Rachel's storyline was just as vital. We see snippets from her nursing career, to her very few interactions with a neighbor, to her personal relationships with her brother and her female partner, I was able to see what Dr. Solomon couldn't admit, that the children she experimented on were greatly affected by what she and the other doctors had done. That in their pursuit of medical breakthroughs and personal accolades, they had forgotten the golden rule of their profession, "do no harm." Orphan #8 was an eyes wide open type of book, one that will stick in my mind for a long time. A book that I 'd already started recommending to my reading friends even before I had finished reading. This was one of those books that I was greatly satisfied to see a plentiful amount of background, photos and input from the author at the back of the text. There's also additional information on the author's website.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Orphan #8 is a chilling, moving, thought provoking historical novel. This first novel by Kim van Alkemade engaged me from the first page. There are numerous themes ( surviving in an orphanage, medical experiments on children, the elimination of Jews in WWII, revenge, relationships, mercy killing etc.) cleverly woven throughout this novel. The author introduces us to a four year old Rachel and we follow her life until 1954 where her past collides with her present day self. This book demands that Orphan #8 is a chilling, moving, thought provoking historical novel. This first novel by Kim van Alkemade engaged me from the first page. There are numerous themes ( surviving in an orphanage, medical experiments on children, the elimination of Jews in WWII, revenge, relationships, mercy killing etc.) cleverly woven throughout this novel. The author introduces us to a four year old Rachel and we follow her life until 1954 where her past collides with her present day self. This book demands that you ponder what you would do if you were Rachel! Great themes, great discussions, great read! 5 stars

  27. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book was recommended to me by a good friend who is also an avid reader. I will definitely be taking more book recommendations from her! I was very impressed by the amount of research done in order to bring this story and all the characters to life. I felt transported to the early half of the 20th century and imagined how Rachel must have been feeling throughout her experiences growing up and even when she was my age. Her fear, anger, frustration, desire for acceptance, etc.; her emotions fel This book was recommended to me by a good friend who is also an avid reader. I will definitely be taking more book recommendations from her! I was very impressed by the amount of research done in order to bring this story and all the characters to life. I felt transported to the early half of the 20th century and imagined how Rachel must have been feeling throughout her experiences growing up and even when she was my age. Her fear, anger, frustration, desire for acceptance, etc.; her emotions felt real and very honest. The dialogue was genuine and the settings felt like they were right in front of me. I also appreciated seeing photos at the end, in the author's notes. The only thing that didn't work as well for me (but didn't deter from my enjoyment either) was that in the flashback chapters, the narrative kept shifting between characters way too much. If that's my only "complaint," you know you're in for quite an incredible read! Orphan Number 8 was well-written and difficult to put down. I applaud Kim van Alkemade on this literary masterpiece. I highly recommend it to book clubs for further discussion. I wish my book club wanted to read it, but I hope everyone in the group will take the time on their own to check it out. Fair warning that some of the subject matter is heavy, but it was well worth the reading experience.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    I loved this book; it was a wonderfully engaging story, and was based on actual historic events. I knew nothing about the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, or the experimental medical treatments inflicted on children in this country. The story about Rachel Rabinowitz alternates between her childhood days in the orphanage, and her life as a young-mid aged adult, when she is working as a nurse. In many ways Rachel was lucky, but her life also holds much trauma and tragedy. The author included a few notes at t I loved this book; it was a wonderfully engaging story, and was based on actual historic events. I knew nothing about the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, or the experimental medical treatments inflicted on children in this country. The story about Rachel Rabinowitz alternates between her childhood days in the orphanage, and her life as a young-mid aged adult, when she is working as a nurse. In many ways Rachel was lucky, but her life also holds much trauma and tragedy. The author included a few notes at the end that explained her familial ties to this orphanage; I would like to have heard more about her research and the historical facts on which her novel is based. I won my copy of this book from Bookreporter.com.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    I felt like there was too much going on here, and some of it was just confusing. I understand wanting to grapple with the different issues, and it is a true story, but it was convoluted to me which took away from what really was a beautiful story.

  30. 4 out of 5

    mad mags

    A Tense Psychological Thriller Tempered With a Heartrending Coming-of-Age Story (Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including illicit human experimentation. Also, this review contains a plot summary with minor spoilers.) The question sounded strange in the present tense. I used to think that orphaned was something I'd been as a child and since outgrown. It occurred to me, though, that was exactly how I'd been feeli A Tense Psychological Thriller Tempered With a Heartrending Coming-of-Age Story (Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including illicit human experimentation. Also, this review contains a plot summary with minor spoilers.) The question sounded strange in the present tense. I used to think that orphaned was something I'd been as a child and since outgrown. It occurred to me, though, that was exactly how I'd been feeling all summer. "I guess anyone alone in the world's an orphan," I said. ### The year is 1918, and four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz has just landed in the Infant Home, an orphanage for Jewish kids under the age of six in New York City. After her lying, cheating, rapist father accidentally kills her mother* and then runs from the police, Rachel and her brother Sam are effectively orphaned, taken in by the Jewish Children's Agency. Two years her senior, Sam is sent to the Orphaned Hebrews Home. The children are considered lucky, in a sense: funded by wealthy patrons, the Infant Home and Orphaned Hebrews Home are well-regarded. Whereas gentile kids in their position - and there are many, left penniless, homeless, and/or without a family to call their own by the twin terrors of the so-called Spanish Influenza and World War I - would be left to fend for themselves, Rachel and Sam get a roof over their heads, beds to call their own, three square meals a day - even an education. Of course, none of this can make up for the pain of separation. By the time a sympathetic receptionist locates a foster home that will take both siblings, Rachel has contracted measles and is in quarantine. And, just like that, their moment has passed: it will be two years before Rachel sees her brother again. By story's end, it still remains to be seen whether the two will ever be able to bridge the chasm created their relationship. The doctors at the Infant Home - Dr. Hess and Dr. Solomon - don't see their charges as patients so much as study material. In the orphanage, environmental factors like exercise, diet, and exposure to sunlight are easily controlled; and there's no need to bother with pesky niceties like consent where orphans are concerned. Besides, these children are parasites, surviving - no, thriving! - on the largess of donors. They owe society a debt, and at the Infant Home they will repay it with their very bodies. Or at least that's the reasoning Dr. Solomon will lay on Rachel many decades after the fact. But I'm getting ahead of myself. While recovering from a host of illnesses, Rachel comes to the attention of Dr. Mildred Solomon, a female doctor in the time when such things were still a rarity - back in the "good ole days," before women could even vote. Eager, ambitious, and with everything to prove, Dr. Solomon recruits Rachel as patient #8 in her inaugural study, where she's subjected to high doses of radiation to destroy her (healthy) tonsils in lieu of a surgical tonsillectomy. Like many of the other subjects, Rachel develops alopecia: she loses all her hair. Permanently. By the time she ages out of the Infant Home and rejoins Sam in the Orphaned Hebrews Home, Rachel's memories of the "x-ray treatments" - as she's come to know them - have mostly faded. Once she settles in, her life assumes a sort of quiet, comforting monotony, governed by bells, bullies, and older student monitors (not all of them mutually exclusive). The years tick by. Sam pays a girl from his year to protect Rachel; she and Naomi eventually develop a friendship, and then something more. When Rachel's arch-rival and resident Mean Girl Amelia orchestrates her sexual assault, Sam seeks revenge on her behalf - and is beaten in front of the school by Superintendent Grossman, whose own son Marc is to blame. Tired of the Home's rigid structure and unfair rules, Sam runs away, west to Colorado - and Rachel follows, unwilling to let go of what little family she has left. Fast-foward several decades. It's the 1950s, and Rachel is nearing 40. Now a nurse, Rachel works at the Old Hebrews Home, caring for dying patients on the dreaded fifth floor. Sapped by the sweltering summer weather and further deflated by her lover's absence, Rachel's already in a precarious state of mind when a Mildred Solomon is assigned to the room of the recently-departed Mr. Mendelshon. Something in the woman's face jogs Rachel's memory, and before you can say "count backwards from ten," Rachel's in a free-fall down the proverbial rabbit hole. Reading about Dr. Solomon's radiation experiments, filed away for posterity in ancient medical journals, suddenly it all makes sense: Her alopecia, and the lifelong self-esteem issues it caused. Her rift with Sam. The inappropriate attentions visited upon her by lecherous, predatory men - Marc Grossman only being the first of many. But most of all, the tender, acorn-sized lump in her breast. Dr. Solomon is to blame. Dr. Solomon was always to blame. The source of all of Rachel's suffering is lying - helpless, addicted to morphine, and dying a painful death of bone cancer - right there in her bed. For the first time in her life, it is Rachel who has all the power. Orphan Number Eight is an odd creature: equal parts historical fiction, coming out/coming of age story, and psychological thriller. The chapters flit between two periods in Rachel's life: her childhood and middle adulthood; the former is told in third-person past tense, the other in first-person past tense. This has an interesting effect, distancing us somewhat from young Rachel and drawing us closer to 1950s Rachel. However, as the story progresses and we learn how Rachel advanced from Point A to Point B, the two Rachels coalesce, become one. Suddenly it's not so hard to see how such a traumatic childhood formed this very broken, very damaged - but still fundamentally good - adult sitting in front of us, laying her soul bare. To be honest, the first chapter had me thinking that this might be a DNF. It's surprisingly boring, which feels weird to say considering it ends in a violent murder. But there's a tedious amount of talk about buttons leading up to it, okay? Needless to say, I'm glad I stuck with it (not that I'd ever give up on a book that quickly, mind you), because Orphan Number Eight is an engrossing read: at turns horrifying, tragic, and heartwarming. Here are just a few of the things I loved about it. (I know this review is already long enough, but humor me while I gush!) The unexpected LGBTQ spin. As if Rachel's adolescence isn't fraught with enough minefields, she has to navigate her budding sexuality with little or no guidance. Rachel's a lesbian, back in the days before such things were discussed openly; "passionate female friendships" were whispered about as "unnatural" or "unhealthy." Her relationship with Naomi is lovely, and you kind of want to smack Rachel upside the head when it looks as though she's messed it up forever. Nor are Rachel and Noami the only two gay youths in the book. While working at a tuberculosis clinic in Colorado, Rachel befriends a dying girl named Mary. She was in love with a girl named Sheila, who was forbidden to see Mary when her mother discovered their letters. After Mary passes away, Rachel inherits her steamer trunk - love letters and all - and it's only by reading Sheila's correspondence that Rachel begins to envision something more, something lasting, with Naomi. As an adult, her partnership with her unnamed lover is a great source of stress to Rachel. Or rather, the need to hide it, to keep it secret and not to assign it the importance it deserves, is. Rachel recounts the sympathetic looks she gets from the other nurses as they discuss their husbands and boyfriends, unable as she is to join in. And as the dread of surgery looms large, the unfairness of having to say that her lover is her sister so that she may be admitted to the recovery room further eats away at her. At best, homosexuals are a source of pity, as is the case with the gay man in her neighbor Molly Lippman's Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society ("poor boy"). With its alternating between different time periods, Orphan Number Eight opens a window onto the different challenges faced by gay and lesbian folks throughout the first half of the 1900s. Dr. Mildred Solomon, feminist pioneer? Make no mistake: Dr. Solomon is an odious person. She dehumanizes and objectifies her pint-sized subjects, violates the trust of children placed in her care, and lets her ambition outrank her patients' well-being. Even when confronted by one of her ex-subjects, now suffering from cancer possibly caused by her fruitless experiments, Dr. Solomon is unrepentant. It's likely that Dr. Solomon's bone cancer is also thanks to excessive radiation - caused by administering all those x-rays - a point she harps on time and again. Yet she fails to see the fundamental difference: Dr. Solomon consented to performing the experiments, while her participants had no choice. Even so, much like Rachel's coming out story, the early scenes (and recollections of) of a very female Dr. Solomon practicing medicine in a decidedly masculine world are as revealing as they are infuriating. The nurses mistake her for one of them; question her orders more frequently than those given by the equally sadistic Dr. Hess; and Dr. Solomon is constantly forced to toe an invisible line: act too severe, and she'll be punished for being too feminine; perform femininity too well, and the men will dismiss her as silly and frivolous. Nearly a century later, some of these things have changed; but it's defeating to observe that which hasn't. Perhaps most egregious of all, in her dying days, Dr. Solomon has been stripped of the title she worked so hard to achieve: her chart reads simply "Mildred Solomon." The nurses don't believe that she's actually a doctor until Rachel confirms it. Of course, none of this excuses Dr. Solomon's transgressions as she would have Rachel believe: belonging to an oppressed class doesn't give you license to oppress others. The parallels between Dr. Solomon and later Nazi scientists. Though Dr. Solomon balks at the comparison, adult Rachel notes the (very ironic) similarities between the way Drs. Solomon and Hess treated the kids at the Infant Home, and Nazi experiments on Jewish captives. Rachel's physical similarity to a death camp survivor - noted by Sam, who fought in WWII and helped to liberate one such camp - is only the most superficial of them. The doctors routinely dehumanize and objectify their patients, referring to them as "material," not people; things with numbers, not children with names. They are neglected save for experimentation; their emotional and intellectual development deemed unimportant. Even as an adult, Dr. Solomon refers to Rachel simply as "Eight." The delicious ironies. There's a wonderful little passage wherein patient Mildred Solomon complains about a doctor's threat to force-feed her, should she refuse to eat on her own - which gives Rachel flashbacks to when Dr. Solomon forcibly fed an uncooperative Rachel a barium "milkshake" prior to a "treatment." See also: Nazi scientists above. The doublespeak. Like a page out of the Bush-Cheney playbook. Rape culture 101. From the very first chapter, with the rape that doesn't yet have a name, rape culture lurks in the shadows of Orphan Number Eight. It's well-known around the Home that Marc Grossman is a serial predator, for example; but rather than acknowledge that his son has a problem - and sacrifice him for the good of his one thousand other charges - Superintendent Grossman goes after Sam instead. Indeed, given the structure of the Home - older students are promoted to monitors and given the power to boss, bully, intimidate, and even physically punish younger kids for the slightest transgression - it's surprising that we don't see more instances of sexual abuse: like many rigid institutions, it seems almost designed to facilitate such abuses! And then there's Rachel's Uncle Max, who'll only let the fifteen-year-old stay with him if she agrees to marry him. With his rabbi's blessing! Again, make no mistake: blackmailing someone into marrying you = rape. Over time, Rachel seems to recognize that she's a magnet for the unwanted advances of men, especially older men and predators. This mirrors statistics on rape; a 1999 study, for example, found that women who had been raped were seven times more likely to be raped again. Predators know to target the vulnerable and marginalized: for Rachel, these vulnerabilities include being poor, being an orphan, being a runaway, potentially becoming homeless, and all-around low self-esteem due to her alopecia and "deviant" sexuality. Even as they take her assault seriously, some of the adults' reactions to the Marc Grossman incident are an exercise in rape culture: "is that all?" (There was no penis-vagina contact, "just" unwanted touching.) At one point, Rachel questions whether she's even pretty enough to be raped. Sadly, this is still used as an insult, some 100 years later. ("You're so ugly you wish someone would rape you" is a common refrain of trolls.) New York City through the ages. Though the kids rarely leave the two city blocks that encompasses the Orphaned Hebrews Home and their middle school, adult Rachel takes us on a tour through NYC, from the Lower Eastside and the famed Goldman Shirtwaist Factory, to the beaches of Coney Island. The ending. Though I had my fingers double-crossed for revenge, what ultimately transpires in that hospice room proved much more nuanced and potentially satisfying. Still, it hurt to see Rachel's potential catharsis thwarted at every turn. There's even a reference section - perfect for the history buffs in the audience. The story was inspired in part by the author's grandfather, who grew up in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York; his mother worked there as a Reception House counselor. Read it if: You're a sucker for historical fiction; you're yearning for an edge-of-your-seat read; you have a sick fascination with the seedy side of science; you want another volume to add to your #WeNeedDiverseBooks TBR pile. * In his defense, the murder was accidental/in self-defense. However, make no mistake: the sexual encounter we see between Harry and Visha the morning of the murder is indeed rape: Visha says no, but he penetrates her anyway. While she eventually acquiesces, there's no such thing as retroactive consent. Additionally, he physically restrains her at two different points during the encounter. That this transpired 70+ years before marital rape was recognized as a crime doesn't make it any less wrong. http://www.easyvegan.info/2015/08/07/...

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