The Orphan Collector - Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Orphan Collector

By Ellen Marie Wiseman

  • Release Date: 2020-08-04
  • Genre: Fiction & Literature
Score: 4.5
From 144 Ratings


Instant New York Times Bestseller

From the internationally bestselling author of 
What She Left Behind comes a gripping and powerful tale of upheaval—a heartbreaking saga of resilience and hope perfect for fans of Beatriz Williams and Kristin Hannah—set in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak—the deadly pandemic that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population…

“Readers will not be able to help making comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how little has changed since 1918. Wiseman has written a touching tale of loss, survival, and perseverance with some light fantastical elements. Highly recommended.” 

“An immersive historical tale with chilling twists and turns. Beautifully told and richly imagined.”
—Stephanie Dray,
New York Times bestselling author of America’s First Daughter

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded slums and the anti-immigrant sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army. But as her city celebrates the end of war, an even more urgent threat arrives: the Spanish flu. Funeral crepe and quarantine signs appear on doors as victims drop dead in the streets and desperate survivors wear white masks to ward off illness. When food runs out in the cramped tenement she calls home, Pia must venture alone into the quarantined city in search of supplies, leaving her baby brothers behind.
Bernice Groves has become lost in grief and bitterness since her baby died from the Spanish flu. Watching Pia leave her brothers alone, Bernice makes a shocking, life-altering decision. It becomes her sinister mission to tear families apart when they’re at their most vulnerable, planning to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans.”
Waking in a makeshift hospital days after collapsing in the street, Pia is frantic to return home. Instead, she is taken to St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum – the first step in a long and arduous journey. As Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost in the months and years that follow, Pia must confront her own shame and fear, risking everything to see justice – and love – triumph at last. Powerful, harrowing, and ultimately exultant, The Orphan Collector is a story of love, resilience, and the lengths we will go to protect those who need us most.

“Wiseman’s writing is superb, and her descriptions of life during the Spanish Flu epidemic are chilling. Well-researched and impossible to put down, this is an emotional tug-of-war played out brilliantly on the pages and in readers’ hearts.”
The Historical Novels Review, EDITOR’S CHOICE
“Wiseman’s depiction of the horrifying spread of the Spanish flu is eerily reminiscent of the present day and resonates with realistic depictions of suffering, particularly among the poorer immigrant population.”
Publishers Weekly (Boxed Review)
“Reading the novel in the time of COVID-19 adds an even greater resonance, and horror, to the description of the fatal spread of that 1918 flu.”
Kirkus Review
“An emotional roller coaster…I felt Pia’s strength, courage, guilt, and grief come through the pages clear as day.”
The Seattle Book Review


  • Beautifully written historical fiction

    By Lori D. H.
    Content Rating: 18+ Genre: Historical Fiction Published: July 28, 2020, by Kensington Books Yes, we are in the grips of a present-day pandemic. That is why I think more than ever; we need a book like this to help remember our past. Knowledge of our history reminds us, our present and future are not immune to the past happening again. The Orphan Collector is the perfect title for this book, and believe it or not; it’s what drew me in to find out more about this book. When I found out The Orphan Collector was about the 1918 Spanish flu, I knew I had to read it. This time period holds an extraordinary place in my heart. In 1918 my grandfather was ten years old. His parents came over from Italy and settled in South Philadelphia. My grandfather survived the 1918 pandemic, or else I would not be writing this review. I must give high praise to Ms. Wiseman for her diligence and thorough research on this time period. I know firsthand from my grandfather’s stories that many of the things she describes in her book are correct. My grandfather told me that the doctor told his parents to give all the children one whiskey shot three times a day. He laughed and confessed that he was drunk for almost two weeks. On the sadder side, his younger sister did not survive. My grandfather described how his parents had to take her body out when the death cart came around. Till the day he died, at eighty-seven, he never knew where his sister was buried. Ms. Wiseman tells the story of the 1918 pandemic with great care and empathy. She helps the reader learn about this forgotten period and helps the reader connect with what it must have been like to live through it. Most importantly, she helps us understand what it was like to be a poor immigrant in 1918, Philadelphia. “The deadly virus stole unnoticed through the crowded cobblestone streets of Philadelphia on a sunny September day, unseen and unheard amidst the jubilant chaos of the Liberty Loan parade and the patriotic marches of John Phillips Sousa.” The Orphan Collector follows the life of a thirteen-year-old German immigrant, Pia Lang, during the pandemic. In 1918 when the flu strikes, Pia’s father is still overseas even as the war is coming to an end. Pia, her mother, and her twin baby brothers are now trying to survive. There is something special about Pia, but you will have to read the book to find out. Pia’s story is about love, the resilient human spirit, and the courage it takes to survive in the face of seemingly insurmountable hardship. However, The Orphan Collector gives us the evil side of what a pandemic like this can do to some people. Bernice Groves has lost her husband to the war and her infant son to the flu. Bernice blames immigrants for what has happened to her family, and she feels that they are not true Americans. Bernice is a woman filled with hate and makes it her mission to separate children from their parents. By doing so, she thinks she can help these children become true Americans. Ms. Wiseman shows the contrast between good vs. evil with each of these women’s stories. Both characters are well developed, and Wiseman’s exceptional writing has you loving one and loathing the other. Both of these characters will not soon be forgotten. Ms. Wiseman’s writing is brilliant and a joy to read. The imagery of the pictures she paints with her words puts you on those gritty streets of 1918, Philadelphia. She craftily weaves Pia’s story, Bernice’s story, and the horrific effect the pandemic has on Philadelphia seamlessly together in a novel that I couldn’t put down. The Orphan Collector is one of those books that will have you thinking about it long after finishing the last word. You will want to talk about it. So, you will tell all your friends to read it so you can talk about it. There are some similarities to the 2020 pandemic, but 1918 was a very different time and a very different pandemic. Ms. Wiseman has written an exceptional piece of historical fiction that you will not want to miss. I highly recommend this book, and I want to give it more than five stars. * Please note the quote in my review is subject to change once the book is published. * ** I kindly received this galley by way of NetGalley, Kensington Books, and Ellen Marie Wiseman. I was not contacted, asked, or required to leave a review. I received no compensation, financial or otherwise. I have voluntarily read this book, and this review is my honest opinion. **