At the age of 13, Homer finds out that everything he thought about his life was false. The truth was, he was an orphan, living on a farm in Iowa with his adoptive parents in the 1930's. Determined to find his birth parents, Homer decides to go to New York City, it seems his history originated. Determined to watch over him, his best friend Jamie goes with him. The boys jump on a train, and begin their journey of weeks riding the rails, making friends with the hobos under the guidance of Smiling Jack, and escaping danger at several points. Will Homer find what it is he is looking for?
A lovely coming of age story, for the most part, Orphan is a classic journey story. The boys are not only journeying through the countryside, the are making their way through adolescence, and finding the true meanings of family and friendship. I really like the premise of this book, and parts of the book were nothing short of beautiful. The character development of Homer, Jamie, and Smiling Jack was quite robust, and I felt as though I really got to know these characters, and understood their feelings. The story flowed well, and definitely was engaging for the reader. The setting of the 1930's could spark some historical interest in young readers. So, the book has a lot of redeeming qualities, but I also had some concerns over a few pieces of content.
This is a young adult book. It states on the cover that is is for readers age 14+, and the two main characters are around that same age. Given that fact, a couple of pieces of content I found inappropriate, and unnecessary within the context of the book. At one point, there is a mention of the danger of the boys falling prey to molestation and sodomy. It is never expressed outright, but an astute adult reader would easily pick up on it. This might be confusing for young readers, and served little purpose to the storyline. The boys were in danger already for beatings, and that would have been sufficient I feel. Also, at one point, the boys stay at and work in a house of prostitution, but the book actually uses the word whorehouse. Again, I think that this is unnecessary, and a better alternative could have been presented. I am all for realism in books, and being honest with kids, but it must be age appropriate. Yes, the book takes place in the 1930's, and I know things were different then, but I still feel that these things could have been left out or altered and the book could have still been very true to the plot and setting.
As an adult reader, I very much enjoyed the book, and I think many other adult readers would enjoy. However, if you are considering this book for a young adult reader, I caution you about the content I mentioned, and suggest you read it yourself first, to see if you are comfortable with giving it to a young adult to read. It may be more appropriate for older teens, such as 17+.
This book is being released July 28, 2010. An advanced readers copy was provided for review courtesy of Traveling ARC Tours