Review by Friends of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library Board Member Joanne Lavarnway
On September 17th, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a Flower Memorial Library sponsored Zoom call with Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of The Orphan Collector. The author began writing this story in 2017. Surely not knowing how captivating and relevant the story would be in 2020, a friend who is a retired nurse, sparked Wiseman’s interest in the subject of the Spanish flu and how Red Cross nurses were instrumental during this time. The interest encouraged Wiseman to create a story set in the city of Philadelphia in September 1918. Listening to the author encouraged me to read more about the Spanish flu. It is extremely interesting to learn about the similarities of today; wear your mask, rules are in place for a reason, and sacrifice for the greater good.
While reading The Orphan Collector, I was shocked by the effects of the flu and the devastating toll it took on the whole city, country and world at that time. The story follows thirteen-year-old Pia Lange and her family. Pia’s father is at war, leaving his wife, daughter and twin baby boys at home. As a German immigrant, he wants to prove his loyalty to the United States by going to war. As a sign of her loyalty to her new country, Pia’s mother brings the children to the Liberty Loan parade attended by 200,000 other people unaware of the deadly virus. Pia’s family lives in a very poor section of the city with many other immigrants. Pia encounters the antagonist, Bernice whose disdain for immigrants leads her to manipulate them for her own gains. Pia and Bernice both suffer tragedies and their lives intertwine throughout the story. Pia’s will to survive and the challenges she faces to keep her family together will keep readers engrossed until the very end.
The Orphan Collector is an example of the resiliency of humans when faced with extreme hardship. How people react during difficult times and find the will to keep moving forward will resonate with readers especially during our current pandemic and social unrest.