Delia has recently been orphaned and finds herself among a truly odd assortment of characters when she arrives at Oddfellow Bluebeard’s orphanage. Each child at Oddfellow’s Orphange has something that sets them apart from the others, from the boy with an onion head, to the girl with blue tattoos all over her body, to a young hedgehog. Each child also has some delightful quality that makes them perfectly likeable.
Oddfellow’s Orphanage, written and illustrated by celebrated Etsy artist Emily Wingfield Martin (to be published January 2012 by Random House), tells us a little bit about each of the children, and just how their personalities and their not-so-happy pasts give them a special reason to contribute to the happiness of the others in the home. Together, the happy family of orphans and the assortment of interesting teachers create a delightful world that a young reader would probably love to visit. What child wouldn’t love classes in fairy tales and cryptozoology (imaginary animals)?
Ms Martin is an artist, first having sketched the characters and given them personalities. The book is full of pencil sketches of the characters and their magical setting, and I really liked the sketches. (The cover attracted me to the book initially.) From my understanding, Ms Martin wanted to give the characters she’d created a place to expand and interact, so she wrote their story. The book as a whole has little plot beyond children become friends with each other in a magical place, particularly the newcomer, Delia, finding her place as a friend in a new (nontraditional) family.
Unfortunately, delightful as the book was, it simply wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more. The collection of character sketches and the interactions we did read left me a little bit hollow. I loved the characters, I loved the slowly developing setting, and I loved the concept. But it did not provide depth that would have caused me to embrace the novel as a favorite to recommend to a young reader. I can’t place why it left me feeling like that: maybe the writing was not engaging enough, or the lack of a cohesive, plotted story didn’t bring the characters together enough.
I recognize that I’m not the intended audience. I am an adult reader who normally reads longer novels, and I have come to expect depth and development. But when I finished this short (about 140 page) novel, I struggled a little to remember which child was which. I feel I should have been well immersed in the striking personalities and magical setting by the end.
In short, Oddfellow’s Orphanage does feel like a preliminary introduction to the setting and characters. Maybe the author has purposely set the book up to be open for sequels, so we can see more of the personalities and histories. At any rate, the book, while a somewhat slow visit to a delightful place, seemed to be missing some depth that would have made it absolutely fantastic. The elements are there, but something essential was missing for me.
I read a digital review copy of Oddfellow’s Orphanage via netgalley.com.