Spotlight & Giveaway: The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

Book Blurb & Info

Philomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.

Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.

Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.

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Book Exercise

Questions for Discussion

1. How does the prologue (or poem at the start of the book) frame the rest of the novel? How does it relate to the book's themes?

2. What would Elodie's life have been like if she hadn't been given up?

3. What would Maggie's life have been like if she hadn't had Elodie?

4. If you were presented with the same choice as Maggie, would you do the same?

5. Are Maggie's father's actions justified? Do you forgive him?

6. What draws Maggie to her first husband? What does her marriage to her first husband say about her relationship to her family and heritage?

7. What does "The Home for Unwanted Girls" mean? What does it mean for a child to be "unwanted" in this context?

8. How do Maggie's and Elodie's abusers justify their actions? How has this shaped both women?

9. What do you think of Gabriel? Do you understand his perspective? Is he a healthy partner for Maggie?

10. What are your thoughts on Maggie's mother? Is she another abuser, or a devoted mother who has made mistakes?

11. How does Maggie change from the start of the novel? From a teenager to an adult? Do you admire her at the end of the book?

12. The book shifts between mother and daughter. How does this change your understanding of the book? Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this way?

13. How do you feel about the nun who kept Maggie and Elodie apart? How do Maggie, Elodie, and Gabriel cope with her cruelty?

14. What do you think of the ending? Do you feel optimistic about their future?

15. How do Elodie, Maggie, and Maggie's mother approach motherhood? How does motherhood change how they think of themselves?


“A study of how love persists through the most trying of circumstances. Deep and meaningful, this novel captures the reader’s attention until they’re rewarded with a happy ending.” — Booklist

“Moving.” — Publishers Weekly

“The ending hits a perfect emotional note: bittersweet and honest, comforting and regretful.” — Kirkus

Praise for The Finishing School: “Suspenseful…. If your guilty-pleasure reads include elite boarding schools, secret societies, murder, and scandal, this one’s for you.” — Kirkus

“Craftily depicts a mystery hidden for decades under the veil of boarding-school tradition and secret societies…. Goodman unravels a web of lies intertwining the well-developed characters that cross Kersti’s path.” — Booklist

“The Finishing School pulls back the curtain to expose a fascinating world of desire, betrayal, and dangerous secrets.” — Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone

“The Finishing School plunges the reader headfirst into a fast-paced, nail-biting mystery that also manages to explore friendship, love, adolescence, family and motherhood. By the time you reach the unexpected ending, you’ll practically be gasping for air.” — Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Trouble with Lexie

“Joanna Goodman clearly knows her way around the rarefied world of the rich and famous. Every page of this compelling novel resonates with authenticity, and is filled with suspense—The Finishing School will keep readers up late at night.” — Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice

“A compelling tale of horrific teenage secrets inside the walls of an elite school in Switzerland, unearthed with verve and sly irony. The truth is cold and slippery as ice as Goodman draws us into the darkness beneath the glittering surface of lakes and snowcapped mountains, and of privilege itself.” — Deborah Lawrenson, author of 300 Days of Sun

“Both a coming-of-age-story and a literary mystery but ultimately culminating in an addictive read full of skillfully conveyed characters.” — Library Journal

“Rich and intriguing, The Finishing School is a page-turner of the best sort—a novel that dusts the polish off of prestige and leaves you with the startling truth.” — Joy Calloway, author of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society and Secret Sisters

“In The Finishing School, secrets are exposed and lies revealed when Kersti Kuusk is pulled back to Geneva, the site of her boarding school roommate’s tragic accident decades before. The hidden rot she discovers at the heart of this seemingly golden world makes for a shocking, satisfying read.” — Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, author of Bittersweet and June

“Enthralling.... Both a compelling look into an exclusive world and a wise and heartbreaking story of a friendship and misplaced passion.... The book is addictive because of the mystery it explores.... Also notable is the deftness with which Goodman presents the complicated, passionate nature of friendships during formative years.” — Globe and Mail, Canada

“The Finishing School drops all the right names, but it’s far from an exercise in snobbery. Its subjects are young love and lust, privilege and striving, and faculty-student relations that redefine that term. There’s a missing ledger and a dark secret, and the story is as tasty as braised lamb shanks and as easy to swallow as a good Riesling — add this to your stack of beach reads.” — Head Butler

Author Info

JOANNA GOODMAN is the author of three previous novels. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Ottawa Citizen, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review, as well as excerpted in Elisabeth Harvor’s fiction anthology A Room at the Heart of Things.
Originally from Montreal, Joanna now lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids, and is the owner of the Canadian linen company Au Lit Fine Linens.



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