The Half-Orphan’s HandbookJoan 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.
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Why Choosing Your Setting is Important
Thank you for the opportunity to guest post!
While characters, plot, and surprise reversals are often most memorable parts of storytelling, one of my not-so-secret favorite elements is setting. Most stories can only take place where the author has chosen to set them, in ways that are societal, allegorical, cultural, and/or mood- or atmosphere-related. For example, the protagonist in Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is caught between two high school settings in present-day Boston; the juxtaposition in these settings plus their influences on her protagonist is expertly portrayed with cultural, racial, and socioeconomic grounding. Many settings help set the mood for a story—an eerie forest, a magical field, an isolated hotel or boarding school.
Using sensory details in setting is a great way to ground readers in space. I often pick one sense to make primary for my characters (such as someone who notices tactile sensations more often than others, or someone who is sensitive to sound), and use it to filter in their voice. In my debut novel, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook, my protagonist Lila goes to a grief camp in Maine. Before I knew what the arc of that novel would be, I read an article about the closure of a sum mer camp created for the children of 9/11 victims. The idea of a camp that was no longer needed (because all the campers had aged out) was striking. I decided to set my character Lila there as a place to heal and learn how to hope again following the loss of her father. I chose Maine as its setting because of its isolation, greenery, and the feeling that it was set apart from Lila’s home state.
When deciding where to set a story, it’s important to ask what your characters need, or what kinds of things could make a place interesting. Do your characters need to go somewhere new to discover something, or do they need to make peace with where they are? What kinds of traditions or customs happen in a particular place? Do you need to research it? Is it where you live or have lived already, where you have traveled, or where you want to go? Is it a place you’ve invented that has been inspired by somewhere? Is it something that we can gather greater meaning from, such as all the districts in the Hunger Games trilogy? Treating setting like a character—whether or not it truly becomes one—is a great way to explore story.
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.
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