Cover Image: The Orphan Collector

The Orphan Collector

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Member Reviews

I am such a fan of Ellen Marie Wiseman's writing that I will read her books without even checking the synopses anymore. I just know they'll be great. This time around, I didn't check the synopsis before adding The Orphan Collector to my TBR pile, only to pick it up around the same time as the Coronavirus was starting to make its way around the US. Talk about a timely read!

This is Ellen's best novel to date! While we're complaining about being stuck at home with our kids for the next couple of months, it's sobering to read about the living conditions back in 1918 while the Spanish Flu was in full force and people were struggling to survive and feed their families. I had no idea how bad the disease truly was until now. My heart went out to Pia throughout the story, especially over the guilt she was feeling regarding her baby brothers. I really wanted to see something good happen for her.

While I felt bad for Bernice's situation initially, she turned out to be a horrible person and Ellen did a great job writing her as a villain. We get to see her perspective at times, but later it tapers off to just show how everyone else sees her (those who think highly of her and those who have been hurt by her actions).

Ellen made great use of descriptions and characterizations to bring this novel to life. It was such an interesting and thoughtful story that was difficult to put down! I only hope that by the time of its release in late July, our lives will be back to normal.

Movie casting suggestions:
Pia (early teens): Oona Laurence
Pia (late teens): Eliza Scanlen
Bernice: Harley Quinn Smith
Dr. Hudson: Spencer Treat Clark
Mrs. Hudson: Rose McIver
Finn: Levi Miller
Mother Joe: Frances McDormand
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1918 was a time of stress and sorrow for people all over the world - WWI was raging, and the Spanish Flu was rampant. In Philadephia, 13 year old Pia and her family experience discrimintion and bullying due to their German heritage, on top of dealing with these daily pressures- the Spanish Flu sweeps through the city, killing thousands. Pia’s mother becomes one of the victims of the flu. Left to care for her infant twin brothers, Pia must make some tough decisions. When she discovers her brothers missing, she stops at nothing to find them.

Bernice Groves is a bitter, grief stricken woman. Her husband died in the war, and her son died from the flu. Bernice blames immigrants for all of her heartache. Peeping from her window, she sees Pia leave her home, and knows that the twin babies have been left alone. Bernice takes the babies and raises them as her own, doing everything in her power to make sure the truth of their history is never discovered. Bernice doesn't stop with the twins. She continues her misguided attempt to "Americanize" the many orphans left behind after the war and the flu epidemic. 

Told from the dual perspectives of Pia and Bernice, this story will break your heart into a million pieces.


I struggled emotionally with this book and had a difficult time deciding on a rating. I found the information about the flu and the tragedies about the lives of orphans to be accurate (based on research I did on this topic in college). I appreciate the author's research on the historical aspect of this book. Historical Fiction is my go-to genre, so I've read many books with upsetting content, but the powerful writing in this book made it feel so much more distressing than many others I've read about orphans and child trafficking. 

Thank you to Netgalley, Kensington Books, and Ellen Marie Wiseman for the ARC of The Orphan Collector in exchange for my honest review.
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I read and loved Ellen Marie Wiseman’s books so I was very eager and excited to read The Orphan Collector. Like I have mentioned in the past, I don’t think of historical fiction as one of my favorites yet my most favorite books are typically that genre!

Ellen Marie Wiseman is a wonderful writer who is a wizard with her storytelling. I felt the same emotions as young Pia and I was frustrated and saddened many times by what she went through.

Take a look t the synopsis:

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . Since her baby died days ago, Bernice Groves has been lost in grief and bitterness. If doctors hadn’t been so busy tending to hordes of immigrants, perhaps they could have saved her son.

When Bernice sees Pia leaving her tenement across the way, she is buoyed by a shocking, life-altering decision that leads her on a sinister mission: to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans.” As Pia navigates the city’s somber neighborhoods, she cannot know that her brothers won’t be home when she returns. And it will be a long and arduous journey to learn what happened—even as Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost. Only with persistence, and the courage to face her own shame and fear, will Pia put the pieces together and find the strength to risk everything to see justice at last.

The Spanish flu was incredibly scary and a real threat. Pia was just a young girl doing what she could to survive and take care of her little brothers, my heart broke for her! Bernice was a despicable character and reminded me of the real-life child trafficker, Georgia Tann who stole children from poor families and sold them.

If you enjoy historical fiction, this book is a MUST-READ! And so are this author’s other books.

Pre-order now, out on July 28.
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At first I thought this was going to be another sappy book about separated families, but Ellen Marie Wiseman is adept at developing engaging, exciting characters. The influenza out reak at the end of WWI is not often a topic of novels, so I found I learned a great deal. 

This eill be welcomed by book groups.
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Reading a Ellen Marie Wiseman book is a treat.  It transports you to that time period, you are sitting in that room, in that house.  This  book is set during the Spanish influenza, I was in the room, smelling the smells, seeing the sick, hearing the anguish .
Pia lives in the poor district, her mother passes from the plague, her dad is off fighting the war,she leaves the apartment to get food for her twin baby brothers.  

Bernice lost her baby son and her husband to this plaque, she sees Pia leave and goes to investigate and finds/ steals the babies. Bernice makes it her mission bring immigrant children to the orphanages, so In her mind they can be raised as she believes that should be raised to be “good Americans” also placing  children into her choice of  homes.  She takes all this upon herself posing as the Red Cross 

We watch as Pia and Bernice days intersect  around each other. 
A true Ellen Marie Wiseman book that is truly written with her entire soul , and a book you will not forget anytime soon.  This will stay with you. 
I am a huge fan of this author ,always have been and always will be. 
Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for my ARC in exchange for my highest review.
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A fascinating story about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in Philadelphia. Readers will travel back into time as the author describes in great detail the life of Pia, a young 13 year old German girl during the epidemic. The quest for discovering the truth about her twin brothers and survival of her family remain strong throughout this story. Nurse Wallis, a truly evil person added a psychological twist to the story. Loved the ending! Highly recommended!!
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This book was difficult to get into and I did a lot of skimming until the middle. The author seemed to find her stride midway and the story became engrossing.
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A fast paced, hypnotic read.  I couldn't put this book down as I was fascinated with the whole horrifying thought of a virus that could leave such a mark on a population.  I found it to be realistic as society feels the pressure of there being too many parentless children, not enough food and fear of illness.  This book opened my eyes to a time in civilization that was not familiar to me and left me wanting more.
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This is a book you can not out down once started. The characters are believable, and your heart is in knots at many times during Pia’s struggle to find her twin brothers during the Spanish Flu. This novel even though not factual, highlighted the various human beliefs, actions and thoughts when faced with fear, hardships and loss. Some are kind and giving while others bias, racism and bigotry lead them to act in ways they perhaps would not consider  in better times. A book when published will make a lovely gift for those who want a good story.
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When 13 year old Pia's mother falls ill from the Spanish flu, she is left alone to take care of her twin brothers.  Once they run out of food, she leaves the twins behind and searches for supplies.  While out, she collapses and is sent to a hospital for Spanish flue victims.  Bernice Groves, after losing her infant son, see's Pia leave her apartment. She enters the apartment and upon finding the twins alone, takes then.  Once Pia has recovered, she is sent to an orphanage, but she never stops looking for her brothers.  Across the city, Bernice finds ways to take immigrant children, putting them on trains, taking them away from their families and to the orphanage, all in a misguided attempt to "Americanize" them.

This book was a bit slow to start.  The beginning chapters felt very much like rambling.  I almost put the book down, but pressed through.  The story vastly improved once the author finished introducing the city, time period, and characters.  Overall, 3 out of 5 stars.
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This was a a very emotional book to read. Pia and her twin brothers story is heart wrenching. World War I, The Spanish Influenza, and Pia's never ending struggle to reunite with her brothers.
Lovers of historical fiction will really enjoy this book. It would also be a fantastic read for a book club.
Thank You NetGalley and the publisher for this book.
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This is such an emotionally intense story. I was gripped by young Pia’s journey to reunite with her siblings during a devastating historical era, when the Spanish flu snatched away so many innocent lives. With heart-rending tension, Ellen Marie Wiseman unfolds a tale of desperate hope, evil wrought by prejudice, and the unwavering love of family. Though it takes place a century ago, it also offers a timely reminder of how immigrants are tightly woven into America’s fabric.
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The Orphan Collector is the raw, emotion-filled roller coaster of a historical fiction story that you didn't know you needed to read. Lovers of historical fiction as a genre will enjoy this well-researched novel, but those of us who don't flock to stories about the early 1900s will enjoy it tremendously. And by "enjoy", I mean get irritated, defensive, and upset for the real-life heroes and villains who faced the Spanish Influenza. Pia Lange, the thirteen-year-old protagonist loses her mother to the flu and her father's fighting for the United States in the war, which means that when the outbreak hits her pocket of Philadelphia, she's solely responsible for the lives of her twin baby brothers, Ollie and Max. Faced with a lose-lose situation, she safely abandons her brothers while she's searching for sustenance for all of them. While Pia is out, the babies get stolen by a neighbor who believes the young girl has abandoned them and whose racist heart leads to years of questionable and illegal decisions. On her hunt for food, Pia collapses and wakes up six days later from the flu. She has survived, but at what cost? She's distraught about her brothers and finds herself in an orphanage. The alternating chapters that chronicle the racist neighbor and her pursuits counteract Pia's good nature, willingness to help, and desire to do what's right.
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Thankful to get to read an advence copy.
As a librarian, I want to talk to others about this book.  

Sept 28, 1918 -Liberty Loan Parade on the streets of Philadelphia 
Parade should have been canceled, disease starting and no precautions taken.
1918- 1919 influenza epidemic
affected 0ne-third world's population
Spanish Flu- worst epidemic claimed more lives than any other pandemic.
Now known as the Year of the Forgotten Death.
This book begins with the parade, travels the streets of the terrible suffering to the dying.
Residents desperate for relief, resorting to folk remedies, that we now consider barbaric, unsafe, and strange.
By December 1918, over 47,000 Philadelphians contracted Flu and over 12,000 died.
Parents not knowing which way to turn making decisions no parent wants to make.
A woman who lost her own child, becomes a villian by making money by searching of the lost children and orphans.
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Ellen Marie Wiseman presents her readers with the most hard hitting and well researched novel that it has been my pleasure to read.  It provides a microcosmic view of a world wide pandemic that devastated the world right on the heels of the First World War.  The Spanish Flu, as it was termed, actually surpassed the deaths of the combatants in it's mortality rate.  Beginning in 1918 as the war was winding down towards it's end the first "wave" of the disease began and continued in two additional waves before it had run it's course.
     Ms Wiseman uses two women living in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area during the period of the outbreak and spread of the flu as the principal characters of the novel.  The first is a young girl of 13 who is faced with the most horrible situation that any human can encounter.  Pia Lange is the daughter of a family that emigrated from Germany before the war began.  In order to convince people that he was not a traitor Pia's father enlisted in the U.S. army and was sent to France and life in the trenches.  Pia's mother was forced to handle the family's problems, tending to Pia and two twin baby brothers.  There was very little social network support in those days and her mother was destroyed by both her work in the apartment they lived in as well as having to bring in money.  When the lady died from being run down and contracting the flu Pia had to take her place.  Ms Wiseman's descriptions of Pia's struggles and problems are heart breaking when she is used as an example of how orphans were treated in the past.
     Bernice Groves is the other woman involved in the story.  She has just had her baby pass away due to the disease and is understandably devastated by it. Bernice  sees Pia leaving her building one day and makes a decision that will affect both women and the near future course of their lives.  The decision and it's consequences are the gist of the story and the means of writing about the effect the flu has on everyone living at the time of the event.  Ms Wiseman is extremely effective in fleshing out the characters that take part in the novel and the personal agonies that they suffer in trying to survive a disease that seems to have no end in sight.
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Ellen Marie Wiseman's The Orphan Collector was incredible to read. The highest of highs, the lowest of lows. Parts of this novel were horrific to read... just considering how orphans were treated historically. I fear that their situation is not always much better today. 

Pia, the young 13 year old girl in the center of this novel, experiences unbelievable heartache and pain as a result of the Spanish Flu and her subsequent life in the orphanage. Her story's intersection with Nurse Wallis is one of those trainwreck scenes you just can't look away from... and it keeps happening time and time again... but fortunately the redemption at the end of this book through Pia's work with the Hudson family and Finn left me closing the book with a smile on my face. 

I've read other books by Ellen Marie Wiseman and think this was her best one yet!
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After the devastation of Word War I, a weary world is hit hard by the Spanish influenza, a pandemic that will make the death toll from the War to end all Wars look puny in comparison. In Philadelphia, German immigrant Pia Lange is trying to start a new life, but it’s not easy; her father joined the U.S. Army hoping to prove his loyalty to his new country, but Pia is till regarded with suspicion and hostility.  Now, she’s fighting for her life and the life of her twin baby brothers, scavenging to find food, even if it takes her far from home. Meanwhile Bernice Groves is inconsolable after the loss of her son, she blames the doctors who couldn’t save him, but her real hatred is reserved for the immigrants she blames for taking medical care away from her son, a true American. When Beatrice sees Pia leave her apartment in search of food, she makes a terrible decision and makes it her mission to turn immigrant children into “real” Americans. This is such a tragic page from our nation’s past and it is even more relevant today than ever, as our government decides who is worthy of saving and who is not. Wiseman’s story is beautiful, bold and frightening and more than anything, a cautionary tale
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