Lynda Mullaly Hunt has won me over as a MG author who just really gets it. I absolutely adored Fish in a Tree, and with this book she has created characters that are instantly real and a situation that is all too plausible. I absolutely fell in love with the characters and could have finished the book in one sitting if it weren’t for the fact that I had to go to sleep.
One for the Murphys is the story of Carley Connors. When we meet her, a social worker is taking her from the hospital to a foster family. We don’t know what happened to her or her family, only that she is jumpy, angry, and afraid to show any emotion that might make people think she is weak. She is left with the Murphy family, and like many foster children, isn’t happy with her situation. But while she starts out by counting her days of captivity, she slowly begins to take to the family. Mrs. Murphy is the kind of mom she never had, one who actually listens to what she has to say and who makes meals from scratch instead of just pulling them out of the freezer. The three Murphy brothers are unsure what to make of her yet come to like her in their own time.
Carley has never been able to trust others. Her mom has been the only constant in her life, but when she married Dennis, 384 days earlier, their happy home was turned on its head. Now she is in the picture perfect home of the Murphys and she feels like a complete outsider. Carley is afraid to tell anyone at her new school about the truth of her life, even Toni, her new friend, partially because it allows her to live in a made-up reality where the Murphys are her family.
As the story progresses, we watch Carley’s defenses come down. We see her actually begin to trust. We see her get attached and watch the family attach itself to her. She looks out for the Murphy boys in a variety of ways – from keeping the bullies away from them to helping the oldest son, Daniel, become the basketball player he wants to be.
One of the best quotes from the novel is when Carley is talking to Daniel about what courage is. His response – “Not being afraid of something.” While that is on one level correct, the reality is in what Carley explains to him – “No! It’s being afraid and doing it anyway.”
In addition to her relationships within the family, the relationship between Carley and Toni was fabulous (though I am slightly prejudiced given our love of Wicked). Toni has a lot of baggage herself that many kids can probably relate to. Both girls really push each other to grow. One of my favorite thoughts from the book comes after Carley really listens to the words of “Defying Gravity:”
“We’ve both changed. We’re tired of having the world push us into places we don’t want to be. We’re both scared of losing love that maybe we never had to being with. We can have whatever we want in our lives. It’s only a matter of deciding. But we don’t have to do it alone. We have each other.”
I loved this book. I think Carley went through so many things and while not every child is a foster child, there are times when every child feels invisible, different, unwanted, etc. I am so glad this was on the NC Middle Grade Battle of the Books list this year!