Hello everyone! Long time no see! Ah yes I have been absent for quite a while, I don’t know when I’ll be fully active in blogging and interacting, though I do have another blog tour for next month I’m incredibly excited for.
Anyway, today I’m taking a mini hiatus from my hiatus with my tour stop for The Half Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours. It is a balanced, sensitive and nuanced debut on grief and loss that I resonated so deeply with it, and I truly hope that through today’s review you all will be convinced go pick it up!
THE HALF ORPHAN’S HANDBOOK
by Joan F. Smith
Genre(s): Contemporary | Age Group: Young Adult
Published: 20 April 2021 | Read: 19 March 2021
No. of Pages: 335
Click here to view Trigger WarningsSuicide, Death of a loved one, Mention of Self-Harm, Grief, Mention of Murder
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.
Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours, as well as the publisher (Imprint) and NetGalley for an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for a sincere review. All quotes used in this post are from an advance reader copy and may differ in the final publication.
The Half Orphan’s Handbook follows Lila who recently lost her father to suicide, and she has learnt to protect herself against any pain or emotion with two rules, never to love again and to stay away from liars… that is until she goes to a grief camp, where she meets new people, but also uncovers new truths about the past.
One of my favourite elements of The Half Orphan’s Handbook was the metaphorical writing sprinkled with deep nuances. It was pitched for fans of John Green and Emily X.R. Pan and I can truly see the resemblance, in a good way between the writing style of these authors, in fact out of the three, Joan F. Smith has my favourite. Randomly-related muses backed by stories of the past or an apt and vivid metaphor, Joan F. Smith’s writing gives of a very reflective, reminiscent and deep tone without sounding pretentious, and I truly appreciated how it created the atmosphere of the book, especially when Lila was trying to heal and sort out the whirlwind of thoughts in her head.
How many times can one person press the snooze button before they’re irrevocably late?
Furthermore, I appreciated the balance of tone. Apart from the calm, thoughtful, reflective tone portrayed as mentioned above, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook goes back and forth between two contrasting elements: one being the “summer camp tropes” full of light-heartedness, cheer and how could we forget our awkward-yet-hilarious moments? The second being the theme of grief and loss looming in the background, not always seen by always felt. And I thought that the balance struck, with humour at just the right point, a touch of seriousness to remind us of the severity was truly well written.
From now on, I will be the Girl Whose Father Killed Himself with a Rope from Home Depot.
The resounding theme of acceptance and grief, involving sibling relationships and friendships was written with so much emotion and soul, and I absolutely loved it. You all know how much of a sucker I am for true and good platonic relationships especially in YA, right? And I’m incredibly happy that this book delivered that, but it didn’t stop there. What truly tugged at my heart (and also proceeded to scorch a hole in it) the most was the way Lila’s sibling (oh my gosh Sammy is so sweet!) and friends individual journeys of grief and loss played a big role in her journey of acceptance. At grief camp, everyone had their backstory, had their pain and loss. The camp being such an inclusive, non-judgemental, safe space where everyone could just expose themselves and show their raw interior, was so impactful. And from the vastly different yet connected by grief – stories of everyone, the way that Lila got an understanding of the different facets of grief and the way that it shone differently under different lights, bringing her to self-realisation, acceptance and finally something that resembled peace, made this book come alive emotionally.
Laughing, loving, living without guilt.
The thing that touched me the most was the deeply sensitive, realistic way The Half-Orphan’s Handbook portrayed grief. I thought that the exploration was really meaningful with so many thought-provoking questions raised: Is loss just loss and crushing sadness or do the circumstances mean other emotions like pity, self-pity or shame? Anger and fear, can the response be the same? Can someone truly heal? How to forgive? When unthinkable changes happen, was everything happy before still real, still true?
Here is why suicide complicates grief… Grief is a beanstalk descending giant who takes hold of your house and shakes it while you sleep, scrambling the layout of life you’ve come to expect… Suicide is a bucket of what-ifs, a stack of if-onlys.
Another prominent theme was truth, and its varying shades of grey. That statement was an oxymoron but The Half-Orphan’s Handbook managed to portray just that. Lila, in her set of rules she vowed to live by strictly after the loss of her father, was one about liars being the worst, and we could truly see through her interactions with others how fervent she was in that belief. However, as we journeyed with her, we discovered the different “kinds” of truth and lies and the way people used them, some to hurt, some to take away pain. There was an analogy of lies to Jenga pieces and I thought that excellently wrapped up Lila’s dilemma and learning about the whole spectrum of what was a justified truth and a cruel lie.
By saying, I understand, I became a liar… I could see how Dad’s life had become a vortex of pain, a twisted game; He’d stacked lies on top of lies like Jenga pieces, when he was really trying to play Monopoly the entire time.”
However, my only qualm was that the journey of healing was a little too romanticised. (aka my tame way of saying UGH the romance spoils the book) This is perhaps my only qualm about the book. I did appreciate this first-lovers, share pain kind of trope, I do think that it was similar to how meaningfully the friendships were executed in the book, however, I think that The Half-Orphan’s Handbook took the romance too extreme, it went faster than a roller-coaster and took up a great deal of the book, giving a sense that it was the romance that eased the healing (ugh cliches), when in reality it was the combined love from friends and family, not just romantically. And I know that this is a YA novel but the characters were acting so immaturely in this relationship which irked me to no end.
I can’t think of a one-word antonym for liar. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, because there’s more than one way to tell the truth.
Overall, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook was such a beautiful, heartfelt and nuanced debut! I truly appreciated the writing style and balance achieved, especially with its moving discussion and exploration of grief, loss and acceptance through our characters. Definitely one to pick up and treasure!
You can trust yourself. You’re going to love people. They’re going to let you down. If they didn’t, then maybe you wouldn’t know how much you valued them in the first place.
rating // ★★★★
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
click HERE to enter the giveaway to win a print copy of The Half Orphan’s Handbook (before 29th April)!