The Half-Orphan’s Handbook



The Half-Orphan’s Handbook
Joan 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.


The art room—the first building I’d seen on the grounds of Camp Bonaventure—stood over by a vegetable garden and the wooden structure that housed the bikes.

“Jeff is out there every day at dawn,” Winnie said, pointing to the garden. “He takes the director-as-part-of-the-community thing pretty seriously. Wears this big floppy hat and everything.”

Not interesting. “Oh.”

She nodded. “And rumor has it that Mari sleeps out there every night and helps water it or pluck the dead leaves or whatever.”

More interesting. “Mari really sleeps outside every night?” Winnie’s eyes were friendly. “Yes. And she has a thing for Jeff.”

I pictured his freckled face, and her overeager clapping and shouting. “I can . . . somehow see that.”

Winnie held the door for me. “What’s the summer project?

Have you heard yet?”

“Summer project?” We slid into seats at a two-person desk scarred with deep grooves and paint flecks. I traced the indents with my finger.

“Yeah, the old 9/11 camp had some kind of agreement with the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Our art counselor, Madame D., picks out the standouts of the summer, and the Guggenheim features them during the fall.”

I raised my eyebrows, impressed. We had gone to the Guggenheim on a trip to New York at the end of last summer. Our last trip as a family of four. Sammy had nearly fainted with excitement when he saw a sculpture made from cars suspended from the ceiling. To my dismay, I’d nearly fainted of dehydration. The filthy city blocks, reeking of baked garbage, radiated heat like a diner griddle.

Dad had stopped to buy a five-dollar bottle of water from   a pretzel vendor. “Still want to move here someday, Lyon?” he’d asked, uncapping the water and handing it to me.

“You can visit me on weekends,” I’d said. I tilted my head back and finished the entire thing in several gulps, scanning the angles and lines of the buildings above as they sliced through the thin blue sky. I loved New York: dehydration, baked garbage, and all.

I shook my head free of the memory, watching Winnie rake her fingers through her thick hair and tie it up on her head in a more voluminous version of the topknot I wore. “It’s hot today, huh? So, yeah, the museum keeps sponsoring it, even though we’re not technically 9/11-related anymore.”

“Hard to take yet another thing away from the half orphans,” I said.

Winnie grinned. “Your sarcasm is showing.”

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Author Bio:

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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