One for the Murphys is a heartwarming story about a positive foster care experience. A victim of child abuse, Carley is removed from the custody of her mother and stepfather while her mother gets treatment for injuries and makes decisions about her marriage. She is placed with a first time foster care family, the Murphys, who have three boys. Though Carley finds it difficult, at first, to accept the kindness of her foster parents and their kids, she slowly begins to warm to each one, and becomes an integral part of their lives, forming bonds that help her understand what a true family is meant to be.
I’ve heard so many positive things about this book on Goodreads and around the Kidlitosphere, but I don’t think it quite lived up to the hype. While the story is emotionally compelling and the characters well realized, a few contrived instances gave me the feeling that I was reading the transcript of a Lifetime Original Movie. It’s great to use a children’s story as a vehicle for exploring issues that potential readers face in their everyday lives, but the storyline itself brings nothing new to the table. I predicted how things would turn out from the beginning, and was neither surprised nor particularly excited when my predictions came true. Carley’s transformation from the sullen, distrustful abuse victim to the accepting, loving child who wants to call Mrs. Murphy “mom” is touching, but doesn’t ring true. The pacing of the story is off so that the changes in Carley seem rushed, sudden, and forced. I could feel myself being manipulated by the story, and almost conned into crying when the inevitable ending arrives, and I hate that feeling.
It seems that adults really like this book, and I think that makes sense. Mrs. Murphy is an adult who makes a difference in the life of a troubled child, and I think most adults - especially those who work with kids (or have kids) - like to think they can accomplish the same thing. From a kid’s point of view, though, Carley is not that interesting outside of being a foster kid, as this is her defining characteristic throughout the entire story. Kids who live in foster families or who have ever been in foster care might relate to Carley if their experiences were positive, but I can also see the possibility of a child becoming discouraged because Carley’s foster family seems unrealistically perfect.
One of the reviews I read, written by Jen Bigheart, includes a sentence that really stuck with me, “I know there are many Mrs. Murphy's [sic] out there, foster parent or not, and this book is a gift for all of them.” This sentence sums up my problem with the story - the book is focused more on the adult than the child, and the story is more about the Murphys than Carley herself, who should be the central focus. Children’s books should be written for children, and in my opinion, this one will not please the middle grade audience half as well as it will please their parents, guardians, teachers, caregivers, and librarians. It’s a grown-up favorite, but I’m not sure kids will connect with it in the same way.
I borrowed One for the Murphys from my local public library.