OUR ORBIT by Anesa Miller

OUR ORBIT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A foster family deals with culture clashes after taking in a motherless girl whose militia-wannabe father has been jailed.

In the Appalachian corner of Ohio, 9-year-old Miriam Winslow’s mother dies in a car crash. Not long after, her father is arrested on tax nonpayment and weapons charges. The family’s trailer is seized, and Miriam must enter foster care (her older brother and sister live with others). Deanne and Rick Fletcher already have young children; though they can’t afford another baby, they have room for a foster child. They’d been hoping for an infant, but as Rick says, “If there’s an immediate need, we should help out. Right?” That’s what the Fletchers are like. Despite warnings about the Winslows, long known as “a ragged bunch by any standard…the kind with no ambition” or, to get to “the gist of the  matter: trashy,” the Fletchers aim for patient reasonableness. When Miriam’s angry, self-righteous older brother, Josh, threatens her new family, they will be further challenged to put their faith into action. Miller (To Boldly Go, 2013, etc.) employs deft characterization to make the Winslows and Fletchers three-dimensional. Deanne, recalling a childhood memory whose undercurrents she only now begins to grasp, wonders, “Do we ever know what’s really going on?” Rejecting simplistic stereotypes, from “trashy” to “homophobic,” Miller invites readers to probe beyond immediate impressions. She also takes a realistic view of limitations; when Deanne’s mother softens toward her gay brother, “You could tell these plans had come from arduous soul-searching. But it seemed a bit soon for applause. Indeed, no sooner did Mom’s eyes finally meet Deanne’s than her look hardened.” This realism is also evident in Miriam’s older sister Rachelle, a troubled girl who cuts herself. She doesn’t get better all at once; instead, she learns hope slowly, in glimpses: “But now, here came a new thought: if she wanted to, she could talk to Mrs. Fletcher about all that.” Josh’s slow burn is also well-handled; Miller does a fine job of showing just how his frustration builds and seeks a target.

A compassionate, thoughtful narrative about hard-won self-realizations.

Page count: 399pp
Publisher: Artisan Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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