Orphan! by John R. Weber
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (301 pgs)
Rating: 3 Suns
Reviewed by Fern
Homer abruptly finds out at age 13 that he’s adopted when his gruff father, an Iowa farmer, announces it after dinner one night. Homer is crushed and decides he must find his real family, who he learns had been in New York City. On his way, he stops to tell his best friend, Jamie, who feels compelled to go along and keep Homer out of trouble. They hop a train and head east, only to run into danger the very next day. Narrowly escaping a brutal demise, they’re befriended by Smilin’ Jack, a hobo who takes them under his wing. After a series of misadventures and serious scrapes, Jamie falls ill as they reach New York and Homer takes him to the house of their friend Sam, a wealthy girl who had lived in their town but then was ordered back east. Sam helps Jamie get the best medical care possible and lends support as Homer traces his origins to a church-run orphanage. As Homer adjusts to what he learns, his family in Iowa helps raise money for Jamie’s potentially life-saving experimental care, helping Homer to at last know the true meaning of family.
When I first read the blurb for John R. Weber’s novel, Orphan!, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was intrigued by the concept of an orphan who discovers the truth of his parentage and sets off on an adventure to meet his family. However, I wasn’t sure exactly how the pieces would come together, or how I would enjoy the journey along the way.
The start, I’ll confess, was slow. Due to dialogue that was stilted and rudimentary, I couldn’t relate to the characters. Complicating this were the extenuating circumstances and corresponding events which lead Homer to leave his adoptive family behind, which seemed farfetched and difficult to believe. He’s a thirteen year old boy who has learned a profound truth, but his harsh treatment of the man and woman who have raised and loved him as one of their own felt rather extreme. I struggled to get through the first quarter of the novel. Considering this is a YA book, I began wondering what audience would enjoy the material. Fortunately, after sticking to it and pushing through, I was able to discover that if you’re able to see through the beginning, there is a story of interest waiting within the pages of Orphan!.
From the moment that Homer and his best friend Jamie take the wrong train and begin traveling in the wrong direction, the story takes on a life of its own. Danger lurks around every corner and safety comes in a manner that you least expect. Smilin’ Jack isn’t your average hero. In fact, he’s not a hero at all. He’s a hobo. After he rescues the boys and places them under his care, the story comes to life. You’ll hold your breath, grasp for it when your heart is broken, and exhale in relief when things come full circle. As one adventure ends, another begins. It’s not always an easy read, but once Homer and Jamie face the real world, are challenged by it and grow from it, it becomes a real one.
While there are issues with Orphan! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book, especially to those who like stories about coming of age. The characters grow as the story progresses, and when things get up to speed it’s an engaging read.