Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0-06-228130-2
Trade paperback, $15.99, 544 pages
Almost exactly a year ago, I read an early copy of Anthony Marra's The Constellation of Vital Phenomena and was so knocked out by it, I told anyone who would listen (and even some who wouldn't) to read this book. I was so thrilled when it began to get great buzz and win many awards.
Reading Patry Francis' The Orphans of Race Point made me feel the same way. From the very first page, I fell in love with the story and the writing and the characters. Reading it, I was lost in the pages, and when people spoke to me, I did not hear them. I wanted to race through it, yet at the same time savor this incredible story and not have it ever end.
It begins in 1978, with nine-year-old Hallie Costa, whose mother died tragically in a drunk driving accident and whose father is the town's beloved doctor, willing to help anyone in anyway he can, whether medically or assisting them with a family situation.
Her father is called to a neighbor's home where a woman was murdered by her husband and their nine-year-old son Gus had been found catatonic in a closet. It was thought he witnessed the murder of his mother, but he was too traumatized to talk.
Hallie's dad Nick went to visit Gus, and after a five hour staring contest in which Nick "looked into Gus' sorrows and he looked into" Nick's, Gus spoke his first words in weeks- "I give." Hallie and her friend Neil, who was Gus' best friend, visited Gus every day, and Hallie came up with the idea of reading David Copperfield to him. She thought the story of an orphan who mades good might inspire Gus.
By the time they are in high school, Gus has become a football hero. He and Neil are still best friends, and Gus and Hallie have fallen in love. An incident happens at a beach party, and Gus' turbulent past plays a part in it, changing the three friends' lives forever.
Fast forward and Gus has become a priest, Neil is an actor and Hallie is a doctor like her dad. Father Gus is approached by a woman who has been beaten by her husband and asks for his help. Father Gus advises her to get away from her husband and offers to help her, but the situation escalates and Gus is convicted of a murder he did not commit.
This amazing story has so many compelling elements to it- there is the murder mystery, the love story and the true meaning of faith, friendship and family. The way it deals with faith and family also reminded me of Jennifer Haigh's gorgeous Faith, with its story of a priest mistakenly accused of a crime. The family that Hallie creates with people who are literal and figurative orphans is a beautiful one, and shows us that you don't need to be related to truly love someone deeply.
Like Constellation, Francis weaves her story elements together to a surprising conclusion. I did not see it coming in any way, and was as blindsided just as much as the characters were. The writing is lovely and the characters Francis creates are so real, I wanted to reach out to these lost souls. I don't know who I could call my favorite- Hallie _"dutiful on her dad's side, unruly on her mom's side", Gus, who cared deeply for his flock and yet led a tortured life, or "misfit princess" Mila, the murdered woman's daughter.
There are too many powerful scenes to choose a favorite- Hallie reading to young Gus, Mila visiting Gus in prison, Hallie ministering to her ill father, Nick's talk with Gus at the cottage- they all just touched my heart in a profoundly unforgettable way.
The Orphans of Race Point is the must-read book this year. It is big- over 500 pages- but you will find yourself lost in the lives of these loving, sometimes tragic, people. If you happen to see me anywhere, I warn you, I will tell you- READ THIS BOOK.
rating 5 of 5
My review of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is here.
My review of Faith is here.
Patry Francis' website is here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Patry Francis' tour. The rest of the tour is here.
Tuesday, May 6th: The Book Wheel
Wednesday, May 7th: Tutu’s Two Cents
Thursday, May 8th: bookchickdi
Friday, May 9th: Sweet Southern Home
Monday, May 12th: Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, May 14th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, May 20th: All Things Girl
Wednesday, May 21st: Doing Dewey
Thursday, May 22nd: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, May 27th: My Book Retreat