Fiction is a bridge, a path, a window, a door and an invitation taking us to the past and the future, into the possible and the improbable, providing heart-pounding action, puzzles to ponder and scary thrills and chills. We meet people from all walks of life, of all ages. Creatures, real or imagined come and go; some are silent, others speak freely.
True-to-life, realistic, fiction gives us a chance to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" building empathy or to see a reflection of ourselves helping us to not feel alone. Readers know when storytelling is at its finest, coming from the pages of a book to surround them; the attachment strong and sure. In her debut novel, One For The Murphys (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Books for Young Readers, May 2012) Lynda Mullaly Hunt gives her readers that kind of compelling story peopled with unforgettable characters.
Sitting in the back of the social worker's car, I try to remember how my mother has always said to never show your fear. She'd be disappointed to see me now. Shaking. Just going without a fight.
Carley Connors has learned to be pretty tough (at least on the outside) and self-reliant having spent the twelve years of her life with her mom in Las Vegas. They've recently moved to Connecticut staying in her late grandfather's condo along with her abusive step-father of 384 days. Against her own better judgment Carley begins slinging verbal taunts his way one evening which lands both she and her mother in the hospital. Carley leaves to stay in foster care. Her mother stays too badly injured to leave.
Living with the Murphy family is almost too good to be true. The two youngest of the three boys, redheaded Adam and little Michael Eric welcome Carley into their lives easily; inviting her to join in their play and loving her superhero games with them. Mrs. Murphy, Julie, the anchor of the family, offers Carley, a rare kindness, understanding and gentleness she has never known.
All is not smooth sailing though. Daniel, the oldest, near her age, wishes she would leave feeling unsettled by all the attention she is receiving. A fire chief, spending most of his days and some nights at the firehouse, Mr. Murphy wants what is best for his family. He is unsure about her presence in his home.
As days stretch into weeks again and again Carley is struck by the contrasts of living with this family, attending middle school and making a best friend to the only life she has ever known with her mother. She is torn between the past and loyalty and the love she is receiving and yes, beginning to give in return. And Carley hides secrets; a secret about the night she was beaten and the secret of her foster care from her classmate.
As her mother's health improves she makes a request of Carley intensifying her inner conflicts even more. She is going to be forced to make a decision she does not want to make. Fortified by support from her steadfast Broadway musical-loving friend, Toni, and the unconditional love of Mrs. Murphy, Carley begins to acknowledge her true strengths, coming to the realization she never has to settle for second best. She, Carley Connors, holds the key to her future. She has, she can and she will be someone's hero.
Within fifty chapters, through Carley's voice and thoughts we enter her life, completely and without reservation. We experience her personal turmoil laughing at her witty jokes (sometimes made to hide her hurt), feeling her fears and crying when her heart breaks. Through dialogue so real it breathes each of the other characters come alive before our eyes. It is Carley's interaction with each of them and they with each other that raises this story to its memorable status. Lynda Mullaly Hunt uses no extra words; every word counts, giving meaning to the moment. Here are a couple of the many passages I marked in this book.
He pauses and says, "I whaled him, Mommy, but he deserved it."
I think that it's funny to have "whaled him" and "Mommy" in the same sentence, and I decide that I like Adam.
She tilts her head. "What have we said about this?"
"I'm supposed to protect him 'cause he's my brother."
"That's right. Brothers stick together, right? Family looks out for family."
I stand in a place with no space.
My stomach has such a longing in it that I want to throw up.
The tone, the look on her face and the look on his, a gentle brush of his hair.
A kiss on top of the head. I struggle to decipher a foreign language. She's looking at him like she's seeing the best thing ever. Even though he's done something wrong.
And that's the thing. Most of the time, it wasn't like my mother told me I was anything---good or bad. But when Mrs. Murphy tells me I'm smart, I am. When she tells me I'm funny, I am. When she tells me how thoughtful I am, I become that way. I swear, if she told me I was a duck, I'd be checking in my high tops for webbed feet.
One For The Murphys written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is one of the most powerful books I have ever read about foster care and family. Having read it twice I can say with all honesty with each reading the story and characters grow in richness. Flawed but fearless in their fondness, love, for one another each person will linger in your mind.
To discover more about Lynda Mullaly Hunt follow the link embedded in her name above. Here is a link to a teacher's guide she developed for this title. Below is the book trailer and an interesting and amazing video interview. Here is a link to another interview Lynda Mullaly Hunt gave at Cynsations.