Books that realistically deal with childhood illnesses walk a fine line with dealing with the reality of illness and the havoc it wrecks on the entire family yet not being heavy handed with it. Rebecca Caprara tackles the subject deftly in her MG debut The Magic of Melwick Orchard. (Thank you to the #KitLitExchange Network for a review copy. All opinions are my own)
The Magic of Melwick Orchard is an unusual book featuring magical realism and a family in need. Isa’s family has moved many times for her father’s work. They finally attempt to lay down roots when her younger sister, Junie, is diagnosed with cancer. As her parents spend more time worrying about June, Isa feels herself growing invisible. This invisibility is illustrated at the beginning of the book when no one picks Isa up from school so so she has to walk 2 miles home in shoes that don’t fit anymore, but that no one has bothered to replace. As she feels herself disappearing she discovers a magical tree in their orchard, a chance seedling.
The tree is part wishing tree and part giving tree, but with a much more considerate child. Isa’s home includes the Melwick Orchard which, years ago, produced amazing apples but has long been barren. A squirrel leads Isa to a new growth and than encourages her to plant her destroyed sneakers. The next day, Isa realizes that she needs those shoes to get to school and when she goes to dig them up finds that the tree has sprouted new shoes for her. From that point forward, Isa finds solace in the orchard and has conversations with the tree.
What differentiates this book from any other magical realism books that I have read is that it isn’t necessarily a happy, upbeat story. Rather, The Magic of Melwick Orchard deals with the realities of having a sick child in the family. Isa not only misses her sister, her only friend, she also feels invisible to her family. Her mother spends all day at the hospital and when she is at home, she won’t get out of bed. Her father is working extra to pay the mounting bills and is sleeping at the hospital. They are definitely a family in crisis.
Rebecca Caprara has created a really moving book with The Magic of Melwick Orchard. Everyone grows a bit in the story, learning from each other. I especially love when Junie tells Isa that she needs to give the tree some TLC. Like the Giving Tree, Isa was expecting things from the tree but not giving anything back. Love works both ways, an important lesson that she needed to learn. Additionally, Isa has to learn to let others into her life. She has gotten so used to having Junie around as her best friend and confidant that she doesn’t always let others in. Luckily for her, their new neighbor, Kira, is patient and persuasive and doesn’t give up on her.
This is a very well crafted MG book for grades 4-7. Readers are able to see things from a variety of perspectives and a lot of wonderful lessons are learned by all.