The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith Book Review

Author Information

Joan F. Smith is author of The Half-Orphan’s Handbook and the forthcoming It Ends with December. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and has written articles for The Washington Post and The Mary Sue on destigmatizing discussions around mental health and suicide prevention. Joan works in higher education and is a dance instructor. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

Joan is represented by Kerry D’Agostino at Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Book Description

It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again. 

Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

TW: suicide mention, suicide, death, addiction

Thoughts and Themes: I knew this book would be heavy as I went into reading it just because of the subject matter that it tackles. Its hard for me to talk about this book without revealing too much personal information but this book hit close to home for a lot of reasons.

I liked how the book went through a lot of the feelings that come along with grief and how it explores guilt along with loss. I thought that this book really showed how guilt factors into grief quite well and did it in a way that was still sensitive to the manner.

This book felt healing for me and made me feel a lot less alone than I have felt in a while. I liked how the story points out that healing isn’t linear and how much work goes into it. I liked that we got to see each person deal with grief differently, and all ages deal with grief as well. I liked that we even have adults in this book that are dealing with grief and it is all different forms of grief.

I cried for a good while after reading this book and the author’s note, I also messaged the author to say thanks for this book which is something I never do because I’m too scared to do that. There are books that I relate to, books that make me feel seen, books that help me heal from things, but rarely does a book do all of those things. This book felt like it was sent to me to say “hey I got you” much like Lila gets these people at camp to make her feel that way.

Characters: Through this story we are introduced to multiple characters as they interact with our main character, Lila. We meet Lila’s brother, Sammy, Madison, Winnie, Noah, Deese and Jeff. I really liked all of the characters that we get to meet and loved all the relationships that are shown throughout this book.

While we do get a romance between Lila and Noah, I thought that was a side of the book and not the main portion of it. I liked how their romance developed and the emotions that LIla has to face to allow someone to be with her. I thought it was good to see her grapple with those feelings and struggle to let herself have feelings for someone. I think this really showed how much she was holding onto the past and not letting herself move forward with her life since her dad wasn’t there anymore.

I like how we get to see each character’s backstory and the reason for the way that they act towards others. I thought it was good to finally get Madison’s feelings out and the truth about Noah out as well. I liked how this was handled and how Lila is forced to see that she isn’t the only one dealing with a loss. There were times where Lila was annoying because of her attitude and the way she treated others but there was an understanding that each of them had their reasons.

Writing Style: This story is told in first person point of view through Lila’s perspective. I really enjoyed having the story be told by Lila as a narrator because you find things out just as she does. I thought it was great to be there with her as we find out details about her father and then find out things about Noah. I think that made the story a lot more impactful because you for a minute are Lila.