Milou, Sem, Egbert, Fenna and Lotta are the five oldest children in an orphanage in Amsterdam at the end of the nineteenth century. Declared ‘the unadoptables’ by evil Matron Gassbeek, when the matron takes drastic action to rid herself of them, the five friends seize an opportunity to escape the grim orphanage. Led by Milou, determined to find her parents, the children must find a way to fend for themselves. Fortunately, all five are talented and resourceful, but is that enough when the past catches up with them?
I read rave reviews of The Midnighters by the same author. Unfortunately, my library didn’t have that book but it had the author’s debut middle grade book, so I borrowed that instead. In case you haven’t heard, there was a huge controversary over the title. Personally I think Unadoptables is a troublesome word to use, given its connotations, and the complexities around adoption and its implications for children in care. In the book the term is used as a slur by the matron and not considered in any depth, which makes it an even more inexplicable choice. So I totally understand why people reacted badly to the title, and I am amazed the publishers went with it.
Leaving the title aside, I have mixed views on this book. Some things I really liked. The author writes well, and I enjoyed the story being set among the frozen canals of Amsterdam in 1892. I liked the children being such loyal friends and how their talents complemented one another’s. I really loved the puppet theatre, and the attempts the children made to convince the neighbours they were living with their father. I liked the character of neighbour Edda, and the mystery of what happened to Bram Poppenmaker.
What didn’t work for me so well were the ridiculous over the top villains. Perhaps a Lemony Snickett vibe was meant to continue throughout the book. If so, the author didn’t carry it off as the villainous Rotman just came across as cliched. The actions of the characters often made no sense to me. This was especially true of the reveal and the ending, and I was disappointed the author didn’t explain why any of the characters acted the way they did.
Overall, the book was an enjoyable enough read. If you love the found family trope and can overlook the plot flaws (and forgive the title), I’m sure you would enjoy this adventure. TOTP and I are sticklers for strong plots, however, so acknowledging the nice prose, we award The Unadoptables six out of ten Diamonds.