Title: The Ogress and the Orphans
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Date Published: March 8, 2022
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
Did I realize this was going to be an allegory for the 2016 presidential election and the subsequent years of spreading hatred?? I sure didn’t. And I’m trying to tweeze out in my own feelings if I would’ve preferred to know going in. Maybe I misinterpreted the synopsis, because the signs are there, but I picked this up (and was highly anticipating its release) because I wanted a cozy, escapist story that was going to pad my “memorable quotes” journal in the way a Kelly Barnhill novel can do. I mean, look at the cover! We have an Ogress baking and cooking for orphans … how can this not be the coziest book?
It definitely delivered the elements I was looking for, but because it was so strongly centred in the mire of comparison to the events of the American political nightmare, sometimes, it wasn’t very comforting. Rehashing, processing all that hate doesn’t make for light reading. Does that make this a “bad” read? Absolutely not. It is FANTASTIC. Truly. But I wish I had been prepared, in my own mind, that it is also a challenging one.
So what this story does deliver: fantastic commentary on the ability of one person to spread so much hate and distrust, but equally how powerful one person deciding to spread kindness and love can counter it. Brilliantly exploring how kindness and hatred are two sides of the same coin, each equally contagious. Like I said this is an allegorical tale, and it was impressibly rendered down to a palatable narrative for young readers. In itself, I think that makes it a triumph of a novel, helping the young who have filtered in the background of these difficult events maybe not fully understanding what they are seeing on the news, the conversations they are overhearing. My own 11-year-old daughter thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it brought up so many excellent discussion points and clarifications in her own mind.
Slowly plotted, tender, comforting and unsettling, balanced and nuanced, Kelly Barnhill has delivered us another gem of a story. Watch for the numerous accolades that this moving novel will acquire!
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