I just finished reading Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson. I have to say, I liked the ending a lot more than the ending of Hattie Big Sky. In fact, I was sitting in a coffee shop when I finished reading Hattie Big Sky and it made me so mad, I threw it across the floor. So why did I even read the sequel?
Because it was honest. It might be worth examining why it had the power to make me so angry to begin with–I have never used physical violence with any other book, after all. Hattie is an orphan (and a teenager) and she really wants one thing: a home. A home that is her own that no one else can take away from her. So she concocts this hair-brained scheme to go to the wilds of Montana to become a homesteader. Trouble is: she doesn’t know how to maintain a home. She doesn’t know how to farm crops. She doesn’t know how to do any of the things that someone would need to be able to do to make a go of it as a homesteader. So when, by the end of the book, she fails, it could not have surprised me, really. But it made me mad.
Why did it make me so mad? Because I know how real, how palpable, how very visceral that longing for home is. And, darn it, I wanted her to have it. I’ve mentioned Write A House on here, and I applied for that house. I applied for it even though I’ve never really been fond of cities and everyone tells horror stories about Detroit. I applied because I want a home. And if I don’t get it, I plan to build a tiny house on a trailer.
That overwhelming longing for home and for family is present in every honest book
about orphans I’ve ever read–and I’m not talking about books that just orphan the MC because parents are inconvenient. Anne Shirley longs for a real home with busom friends and a family. Harry Potter . . . I think even the Boxcar Children, living in their abandoned train, are using that as a way to stay together as a family and have a safe home of their own. And who could forget The Great Gilly Hopkins? She has a funny way of showing it, but I’m pretty sure that’s just what she wants, too.
But I think that Patricia Reilly Giff says it best at the opening of Pictures of Hollis Woods:
This picture has a dollop of peanut butter on one edge, a smear of grape jelly on the other, and an X across the whole thing. I cut it out of a magazine for homework when I was six years old. “Look for words that begin with W,” my teacher, Mrs. Evans, had said.
She was the one who marked in the X, spoiling my picture. She pointed. “This is a picture of a family, Hollis. A mother, M, a father, F, a brother, B, a sister, S. They’re standing in front of their house, H. I don’t see one W word here.”
I opened my mouth to say: How about W for wish, or W for want, or W for “Wouldn’t it be loverly,” like the song the music teacher had taught us?
I’ve noticed a lot of other things about orphan stories. Orphans tend to be resourceful, compassionate, both idealistic and naive–at the same time!–and idiosyncratic, to say the least, if these stories can be trusted. And they seem to take life’s lessons more to heart, if that makes sense. But that longing for home is so strong . . . which is why I was more please with the ending of Hattie Ever After, and the hint that she just might get it this time.
Who are your favorite literary orphans? And do these characteristics line up with them?