Title: The Unadoptables
Author: Hana Tooke
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Published: 2nd July 2020
Synopsis: The amazing humour and world-building of Nevermoor meets the wisdom and warmth of Rooftoppers in this most un-ordinary adventure about five amazing children . . .
‘Milou,’ Lotta said softly. ‘We need adoption papers to leave. And no one except that horrid merchant wants us.’
‘Well then,’ replied Milou with a grin. ‘We’ll just have to adopt ourselves.’
In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.
Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou; who were swiftly and firmly deemed ‘the unadoptables’. Twelve years on the children still have each other – until the fateful night a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, fleeing the frozen canals of Amsterdam for an adventure packed with puppets and pirate ships, clock-makers and cruel villains – and with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home . . .
The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke is set in Amsterdam in the 19th century, in a world where orphans contend with pirates, puppets, clockmakers and cruel villains to find a home and a place where they truly belong. Fenna, Lotta, Sem, Egg and Milou are known by the matron of Little Tulip Orphanage as the unadoptables. Lotta has twelve fingers, Fenna is a mute, Egg has a shawl that reminded the matron of rotten eggs, Sem arrived in a wheat sack, and Milou arrived on a full moon – and has theories about where her real parents and believes they’re coming for her.
When Rotman comes to adopt the five orphans, Milou and her friends realise something is wrong, and they escape, only to find themselves pursued by Rotman and the Kinderbureau, as they try to make a life at the Poppenmaker theatre where Milou believes her parents come from. Whilst here, Milou uncovers several secrets and together with her friends, forms her own family – yet she is still keen to solve the mystery of Bram Poppenmaker.
This book was filled with mystery, history, and a sense of doom at times that would always give way to hope and wonder. Here there are five children – determined and hopeful that they can have a good life. Instead of waiting around they make one for themselves. And whilst doing so, they uncover crimes and mysteries that bubble beneath the surface from page one – there is always a sense of whimsy and wonder yet at the same time, a sense that something doesn’t feel quite right – as though at any moment, something could go horribly wrong – and nobody is quite sure what it will be or how to handle it.
Hana Tooke manages to move through nineteenth century Amsterdam wonderfully – showing readers the city, and the canals in detail that etches them in the reader’s mind, and also, makes the city feel as though is its own character. I loved the way the mystery was woven throughout, and not immediately solved, but tiny crumbs and clues dropped at just the right time, and the orphans were resourceful, and all had character arcs and growth that worked well with the novel, especially Milou. I think she was my favourite, although it was hard to choose one as they were all great characters. What worked well with this novel was its setting – because this allowed Milou and her friends to escape easily – these days, with phones and technology, it could be harder – doable, but the mystery would be solved sooner than Milou solved her family mystery.
In a very unordinary, exciting and unusual adventure, this new middle grade offering is fantastic, filled with whimsical illustrations, it pulls you into a different world of puppets and trickery – and villains like Gassbeek and Rotman, where you cheer for the orphans. Whenever Gassbeek and Rotman were around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up – a warning that something wasn’t right, and I found myself reading late into the night to finish this one – I had to find out if Milou and her friends found their family, and if Milou was right about Bram Poppenmaker. It felt like so many familiar children’s novels and yet at the same time, felt so unique and so fresh that I don’t think there is anything to compare it to, yet it would sit comfortably with books like Nevermoor on a shelf of wondrous tales that have a sense of magical realism about them and that make their world feel so real, I could easily fall in and find myself living there.
A great new middle grade novel!