After a family tragedy, four-year old Rachel Rabinowitz is placed in the Hebrew Infant Home and separated from her beloved six-year old brother Sam in New York City in 1919. Once there, Rachel is placed in isolation as she tries to recover from a variety of illnesses. She also becomes part of a study using x-rays, hence orphan number eight, by young Dr. Mildred Solomon. This study causes Rachel to lose her hair and also to contract cancer later in life. In the 1950’s, a grown up Rachel is a nurse working in the hospice wing of the Old Hebrews Home when she discovers that Dr. Mildred Solomon is her patient. Rachel is torn by her feelings, should she seek vengeance on one who caused such harm to an innocent child?
The novel flips between the two timelines where you learn the story of young Rachel and what life was like growing up in the Hebrew Infant Home and the angst of 1950’s Rachel learning what exactly Dr. Solomon did to her in the experiments and what morally she should do in return to Dr. Solomon. There is also a love story where young Rachel starts to have burgeoning feelings for another girl and it leads you to wonder if she is with the same woman. The novel discusses the feelings of isolation being in a homosexual relationship in the 1950’s.
My favorite part of the novel was definitely the past story line with Rachel growing up in the orphanage. I loved the detail, and was fascinated by life both in the Orphanage and out West when Rachel was older. What made the novel even better was that the author included her inspirations in the end of the book and a lot of the novel was true and parts were her own family history. It was fascinating. I also enjoyed all of the characters.
The weaker part of the novel was the 1950’s story. I felt like there was great suspense at first, but then the storyline drifted in focus to more Rachel’s love life rather than the interaction between Rachel and Dr. Solomon. I think a novel of living life as a homosexual American during a repressed 1950’s society would be fascinating, but I didn’t think that was the main part of this story. It seemed like plot drift.
Overall Orphan Number Eight is a very interesting and original historical fiction suspense novel.
Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!