August 2015 Indie Next List
— Karen Briggs (W), Great Northern Books and Hobbies, Oscoda, MI
View the List
New York Times and USA Today Bestseller
In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage years before.
In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City’s Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had.
Though Rachel believes she’s shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person’s fate—to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals—is not always set in stone.
Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.
Praise For Orphan #8: A Novel…
— Catherine Zobal Dent, author of Unfinished Stories of Girls
“Inspired by actual events, van Alkemade crafts a powerful story of festering vengeance and redemption that touches readers on many levels. Alkemade has managed to incorporate many emotions into her thoughtful debut, emotions that linger long after the last page is turned.”
— RT Book Reviews
“This book is utterly unputdownable. At once atmospheric, disturbing and absolutely engrossing, it poses a host of moral questions; I fully anticipate that it will become popular with book clubs.”
— Historical Novels Review
“A sure book club pick and a strong debut, this title functions well on multiple levels and will appeal to a broad readership.”
— Lambda Literary Review
Even non-aficionados of historical fiction will find much to savor in this remarkable novel. Its themes and artistry will linger in reader memory. Orphan #8 is a remarkable work, well rooted in some little-known history... a broad landscape of issues, superbly rendered.
— GLBT Reviews, American Library Association's LGBT Round Table
“…van Alkemade succeeds in bringing to light a fascinating and little-known chapter of history...she vividly chronicles her heroine’s pain, resilience and capacity to be honest with those who loved her, with those who betrayed her, and ultimately with herself.”
— Lillith Magazine
William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062338303, 416pp.
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
About the Author
Kim van Alkemade was born in New York. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So to Speak, and CutBank. She teaches writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Was Harry Berger wrong to run away? What might have been different had he stayed?
2. What might have been different if Rachel could have told her friend Flo the truth about her relationship with Naomi?
3. Was Dr. Solomon wrong to use Rachel in her experimental study of the X-ray tonsillectomy?
4. In what ways did the Orphaned Hebrews Home benefit the children who grew up there? How were the children affected by that experience?
5. Was it selfish of Sam to leave Rachel in Leadville with their Uncle Max? Why do you think Sam keeps leaving his sister behind?
6. If Dr. and Mrs. Abrams had known that Rachel was “unnatural,” do you think they would have still been kind to her?
7. What do you think of the way Mrs. Hong treats Sparrow and Jade?
8. Is Dr. Solomon to blame for causing Rachel’s tumor, or should she be thanked for spurring Rachel’s discovery of it in time for treatment?
9. How have the medical attitudes about treating women with breast cancer changed since Dr. Feldman’s time?
10. Would Rachel have been justified in giving Dr. Solomon an overdose of morphine in revenge?
11. How do you think Naomi will react when Rachel tells her about the cancer and her upcoming surgery?
12. What other walls have people built around one another, or themselves, in the novel?