Book Bravo: One For the Murphys

                             
       We’ve all been there.  You can tell the moment you answer the door that this person is there to sell you something.  Usually magazines.  Sometimes new windows.  Or the deal of a lifetime on a lawn care system.  Almost always, I’m pretty militant about sending them on their way.  I don’t even open the door, just shout a hearty, “NOT INTERESTED, THANK YOU!” and watch them fumble with their pamphlets as I move back into the safety of my house.
        But today was different.  For one thing, I was outside, weeding.  Nowhere to hide.  For another thing, the woman who approached me (for the record, yes – she was selling magazines) started with her life story instead of her sales pitch.  Or maybe that was her sales pitch.  Who knows.  But whatever it was, today was different.


        “I never thought I’d be going door to door,” she told me, after introducing herself.  She said she was in a job training program through a nationwide organization (that much, I later confirmed, was legit).  
        “I’m working hard to finish this program and prove to the state that I am stable enough to get my kids back.”  Uh-huh, okay, what are you selling, and how much is it going to cost me? Still, there was something in her eyes.  She looked so tired.  I stood up, brushed off my knees, and moved toward her.  Maybe her story was real, maybe not.  Without a door to shut between us, I figured the least I could do was make eye contact with her.
     
        Then she seemed to deviate from her script.  She told me she had recently been hospitalized after being beaten by her long-time boyfriend.  She kicks herself for not listening to her 12-year-old daughter who begged her to leave him.  And she was working hard to get her life in order so that she could get her kids out of the foster care system, where they’d been ever since the beating.

        This is where the hairs on my arms and neck stood up.  Sadly, I know this is not an uncommon story. However, the particular familiarity of it was freaking me out.  I felt like one of the characters in Lynda Mulally Hunt’s newly published One For the Murphys (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books) was standing in my driveway and talking to me.  
         Here is an overview of the story (From Barnes and Noble, One For the Murphys):
        “A moving debut novel about a foster child learning to open her heart to a family’s love.  Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong—until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.”

        So yeah, my hair stood on end.  The book moved me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it’s story and message.  In the story, Carley learns that you can lean on good people to help you in a bad situation.  Something about the similarity between Mullaly Hunt’s tale and the one this woman was sharing with me made me listen to her, instead of brushing her off.  Maybe I’m a schmuck.  But just in case, when I went inside for my checkbook, I also picked up a signed copy of the book I had gotten at a recent Wellesley Books event.  I gave it to the woman, and wrote her daughter’s name inside.  When I explained the premise of the book, the woman said she couldn’t imagine how her daughter would feel reading it, knowing she is not alone.  

        Then she said, “I wish I had had a book like this, when I was young.  My brothers went to Gramma’s, but I was too little, and went to foster care.”  How would her life have been different if she’d had Gilly Hopkins (from Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins) as a childhood companion?  
        So maybe I’m a shmuck.  Or maybe there is a little girl out there who is hurting, scared, and confused, and will be able to read One for the Murphys and know she is not alone, and that good, caring people do exist, and sometimes they are all you need to get by.  
        Well done to Lynda Mulally Hunt for the perfectly paced writing in this fantastic novel.  The characters are real, flawed, and quirky, just like you and me.  I highly recommend this book for girls age 9-13, or anyone who loves a good hero story.  You will be enlightened and enriched.  

15 thoughts on “Book Bravo: One For the Murphys

  1. Wonderful post. I would have been skeptical about the woman's story, too, (sadly, it's the world we live in) but as you point out, there also might really be a young girl out there for whom Lynda's beautiful book would resonate.And the book's overall message of goodness will be backed up by the very kind act of a stranger.Bravo, indeed.

  2. So, Nancy–in a very un-Carley like moment, all I can muster up to say here is I totally want to hug you right now. If I knew your address, you may find me wandering across your front lawn, too. There is SO much to thank you for–coming to Wellesley, buying the book, taking the time to sense there was something in this woman's weary face to make you pause and listen, making the connection, giving her the book and some kind words and then writing this post. I am floored. Absolutely floored by it. Thank you. It makes my day! Probably my whole week! xoxo

  3. Oh, the power of books. How wonderful that Lynda wrote this book, that you found it, and that you opened your heart to a stranger.I recently found myself recommending Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson to a young woman who is struggling as the sibling of a young woman with anorexia/bulimia-the anger, sadness, frustration, etc. I told her the book is raw and real but it may help her better understand her sister's struggles. It's so important to have books like this that speak the truth.

  4. Oooh, if you do come over, bring your weeding gloves! Wink.I hoped you would like this story and not think me a doof. I really do think that most people, most of the time, are good people. It's a much nicer way to live than being skeptical all the time, don't you agree?One more thing: I'm gonna need another copy of your book.

  5. Beautiful, thank you! It really is amazing the way a story can touch us and even influence our interactions with others in profound ways. I totally hear you on your initial skepticism with this woman. In my best moments, I tell myself that even if someone's story isn't true, it will be better to have shown compassion to someone (who probably needs it whatever the "true" story) than to have been uncaring to someone who needs help. I certainly don't always live up to that– especially during my years living in New York City. Blargh. But it's something I try to keep in mind.

  6. Wonderful post and an amazing story. I think that even if the girl doesn't exist, this woman will make sure to hand the book to someone or read it herself and will be changed for the better.

  7. I agree; it will have a better chance of reaching someone who *needs* to read it now that it is off my nightstand and into this woman's hands. However, I will get another copy. : )

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