The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

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The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Alex Mitchell
Reviewed by Alex Mitchell
Summary: An excellent, quirky debut by Hana Tooke that mixes loveable characters with a heartwarming, adventurous, and at times quite sad and scary story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: May 2020
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 978-0241417461

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In the winter of 1880, five babies are abandoned at the Little Tulip orphanage in Amsterdam, much to the annoyance of matron Gasbeek. Twelve years later, Milou, the last of the five babies to be abandoned back in that winter, struggles to work out the identity of her parents from the clues she was abandoned with: a small coffin with claw-marks on the outside, a cat doll made by someone called Bram Poppenmaker, and a velvet blanket. She, along with the other four, patiently wait for Milou's parents to come back and take her home. However, when the five children are sold to the dodgy merchant Meneer Rotman, they know they have to escape. And so begins the adventure of a lifetime as the Unadoptables join forces to reunite Milou with her parents, all the time being pursued by the Kinderbureau and Rotman…

I have to say, for a debut novel, Tooke has done an amazing job. I absolutely adored the characters, they're all very well written and balance each other out nicely. The writing style is very easy to follow, while also injecting some slightly ironic humour into the text. The story is just the right mix of tragic, adventurous and heart-warming, with some slightly creepy moments in there just for good measure. It's an unusual combination to be sure, but somehow it works.

The book is told from the point of view of Milou, an orphan who has resided at the Little Tulips orphanage since December 1880. She keeps a little book of theories as to why her parents abandoned her, most of which are quite out there, e.g. they're werewolf hunters, spies or they got stranded in the artic. Along with her are four other children; first we have Lotta (so named because she has twelve fingers instead of ten), a very logical, scientifically-minded girl who balances out Milou's more fantastical ideas. Second is Fenna, a mute girl with a love for all things cute and fluffy. Third is Egg (short for Egbert), a boy of Oriental ancestry who is great at drawing and, like Milou, wants to find his birth family despite not knowing a thing about them. And last but not least we have Sem (so named because he was abandoned in a bag of Semolina flour), the lankiest of the group, with a talent for sewing and who has nothing but contempt for his birth parents. They do a good job of acting as foils to each other in their motivations and backgrounds. Despite the fact that none of them have families, they've essentially formed a little family of their own, and seeing how far they are willing to go to help each other is really touching.

The setting is also very good. Tooke lived near Amsterdam up until she was twelve, and her experiences may have informed how the city is seen through the eyes of those pre-teens. The characters' speech is peppered with Dutch, such as "goedemorgen" (good morning), "goedeavond" (good evening) and calling other characters by "Meneer" and "Mevrouw" instead of Mr and Mrs. The book does also tackle some of the less savoury attitudes held by people in the late-19th century. While the Kinderbureau do sometimes visit the orphans, they seem to care more about whether the paperwork is in order and the adoption fees are paid than whether the children are being properly looked after; also, Egg, whose parents are from somewhere in the Far East, and Lotta, who has polydactyly, are sometimes treated with fear and revulsion because they're not seen as being properly Dutch. It really grounds the setting and makes it feel a lot more realistic.

In conclusion, Hana Tooke's debut novel is a great mix of funny, sad and sweet and I would highly recommend it.

Similar books by other authors:
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty – a similar story of parental abandonment with a mix of funny and scary moments.

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