Synopsis: When Murphy walks into the East Tennessee Children’s Home, Maddie feels like she’s found someone who feels like home. They immediately swap stories. Murphy, who has changed her name, tells everyone her parents are dead and her aunt is in Europe– she’ll come get her eventually. Maddie knows she’s in the system for a long time: her neighbor (called Granny Lane) heard a voice tell her to check on the baby, and Maddie was suffocating when she came over. She tells anyone who will listen about the ghost that saved her life.
Maddie was in a foster home with another boy, Randy Nidiffer, who loved to draw pictures and collect pictures of houses. They used to dream of where they would want to be in the future. Maddie shares her scrapbook with a six-year old, Ricky Ray. Murphy walks in on them looking at the book. At lunch a few days later, Murphy decides they should build a house. Another foster kid Donita and a boy in their class Logan are in on the plan. They begin building a fort in Logan’s backyard. Ricky Ray is invited, too. The fort is a safe haven. They work on their “Book of Houses”.
Murphy slowly becomes more and more popular at school. The really cool girl Olivia invites Murphy over to her house. Murphy is in love with the house, saying that an old soul built it. She shows Olivia the notebook at lunch one day, and it is immediately ridiculed. Maddie, Donita, and Logan are devastated. Murphy and Maddie actually bury the books afterwards so that they wouldn’t be humiliated in that way again. A few days later, a woman asking for “Emily” comes to the home. Murphy says she doesn’t know her.
Later, after Murphy has moved back with her mom, Maddie realizes that Murphy had lied a lot about her family. It wasn’t to hurt anyone; it was a self-preservation technique for Murphy. The group starts making new notebooks, but instead of clipping houses from magazines, each person clips something that interests them (Donita does interior design, for example). Maddie has a good shot of being adopted, and she’s hoping her adoptive parent will fall in love with Ricky Ray so she won’t have to leave him.
- This book takes place in Elizabethton, Tn. I live about ten minutes from there, in the slightly bigger Johnson City. Can I tell you how cool it is to read a book that you can recognize the places? Seriously. Everything from the post office to Roan Mountain is pretty darn accurate. The only obvious thing I know of was the name change in the middle school, but she changed it to something that really would fit this area.
- To continue on the setting, she truly captures the spirit of this town. I’m a “transplant”, and although I’d probably be considered an outsider, I think she has nailed it. From the fact that people an hour away drive to the Elizabethton Wal-mart to familiar last names of people in this area (Nidiffer and Grindstaff are distinctive names in this area and I don’t know how common they are outside of East Tn), it’s apparent that she’s writing what she knows… and what we know.
- Comparing Maddie to Gilly Hopkins: Maddie is not as angry as Gilly when it comes to being a foster kid. Part of that is she has no illusions that she’s going to get saved from the system, whereas Gilly’s desperation for her mother to love her ruined what she had with her foster homes. Maddie tries to make the best of it. She holds on to dreams, not of her mom, but of the future. Maddie also has a bit of sense about her. She knows people are prejudiced against foster kids, so she tries to keep a low profile and not make trouble. Gilly, on the other hand, has a tendency to fulfill those prophecies. 😉 We love them both, anyway.
- Logan’s inclusion in this group is interesting. Although he has a family, he doesn’t feel like he belongs. Part of what inspires him to build the fort is he thinks his parents would appreciate something normal from him. He’s a sixth grader shooting for valedictorian, for crying out loud.
- Murphy tells Maddie she can fly, and to an extent, Maddie believes her. I think Murphy is someone Maddie can look up to because She believes in herself and that’s enough to make her soar.
Grades: 3-6 It’s a pretty easy read, nothing controversial.
Grade: A I am totally prejudiced to like this because it’s near my city, and she “got” the setting perfectly. (I almost want someone else to read it that’s outside of this area to give me the thumbs-up or -down.) I like O’Roark Dowell’s simplicity in her books. The characters are realistic, as are the situations. It’s a straight-forward book. I would probably give this as an alternative reading assignment if a parent complained about Gilly Hopkins. I’m giving it an “A” because I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about the book. I was going to give it a B+ so I didn’t seem too enthusiastic about a local book, but that’s unfair as well.