The Half-Orphan’s Handbook
by Joan F. Smith
Published by: Imprint/Macmillan
Publication date: April 6th 2021
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Young Adult
For fans of John Green and Emily X.R. Pan, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith is a coming-of-age story and an empathetic, authentic exploration of grief with a sharp sense of humor and a big heart.
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.
I opened the door. “Hi?”
“Hi,” the woman said. “I’m Mari. Lead counselor.” She had a medium-brown complexion and pale green eyes. I’d never seen legs so long in my life. They stuck out of a pair of cutoff jean shorts. Her smile revealed a row of crooked bottom teeth.
I forced a smile back. “I’m just dropping off my brother.” “Really?” Mari hugged a clipboard to her chest and adjusted a beaded bracelet on her wrist. I started to pull the door closed but stopped when she spoke. “That’s not what Sammy says.”
Traitor. I narrowed my eyes at Sammy, who beamed. I swallowed. “Uh. Right. I—”
Mari gestured toward the clipboard she held. “I can give you a sec.”
I glanced at Mom, and her expression was so goddamn hopeful that I almost relented. She unbuckled her seat belt and used her knee to nudge open her door. “You can heal here, Lila.”
The tips of my ears burned. Heal? Like how counseling healed Dad?
“Honey . . . your dad would want this.”
Would he, now? Oh, well, in that case. I couldn’t stand any part of this. I couldn’t fathom the ride home with her, or entering our ridiculous house without our ridiculous father. I glanced out the window, where Sammy waited, and finished pulling the door closed with a sharp click. I didn’t want him to hear some bogus explanation about what our father would want. I steeled myself. “Jesus Christ, Mom. I’m not some knee scrape you can put Neosporin on—”
“I don’t need to be healed.” “We all do, sweetie. We do—” “Stop it. Please. Just stop.” “You don’t need to be scared.”
“God, Mom, do you ever stop? No wonder he left us.” The second the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe I’d said them. I wanted to snatch them from the air between us. “Mom. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Her mouth rolled into itself, and she gripped the steering wheel so hard her arms shook. I watched her knuckles drain of color. “I know you didn’t mean that. But that . . . you . . . Not cool, Lila. Not cool.”
“I don’t even know why I said it. I’m sorry.” Guilt rained over me, soaking my hair and settling into my toes.
“I forgive you,” she said, her tone making it very clear that she more than likely did not. At least not yet.
Joan F. Smith lives with her family in Massachusetts, where she works as an associate dean, a creative writing professor, and a dance instructor. She received her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, and has written articles for The Washington Post and Thought Catalog on destigmatizing discussions around mental health and suicide prevention. The Half-Orphan’s Handbook is her debut novel.
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