Carley doesn’t want to be a foster child. Even though her life in Las Vegas with her mother wasn’t perfect, with her mother staying out all the time and bouncing from boyfriend to husband, it was what she had always known. But after what happened with her mother’s new husband Dennis, she couldn’t go back to her mother even if she wanted to. But for a girl who hasn’t exactly known unconditional love, the Murphy’s, the family in which she is placed, are way too perfect. Julie, the mother, is perky all the time, and doesn’t back off, no matter how much Carley pushes her away. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy are actually in love, and their two younger sons are adorable, giving Carley a sense of family and adoration that she hasn’t ever felt. She just doesn’t feel like she deserves all this love, especially after the way she’s been treated her whole life, alternately doted upon and then ignored. Carley has never been given a room all her own, never been taken back-to-school shopping to get an entire new wardrobe. She’s never been cared about so much that when she pushes, she isn’t then pushed away. She’s more used to the way Daniel, the suspicious older son, treats her, with jealousy and angry frustration, and to the way Toni, an offbeat girl at her new school, immediately rejects her because of her wardrobe. But over time, the Murphy’s slowly make their way into Carley’s life and into her heart. But when her mother re-enters the picture, Carley must come to terms with the fact that the family she has grown into may not be her happily ever after.
One for the Murphys, though a fairly straightforward and predictable read, was a heartwarming book that portrayed the growth of both one very lost girl and the family that reached out to her. Carley is a winning heroine, whose snarky and sarcastic sense of humor covers up her genuine hurt and pain. Lynda Mullaly Hunt does a wonderful job of showing Carley’s growth throughout the novel by her interaction with the other characters: Carley’s increasing closeness to Mrs. Murphy, both emotionally and physically, Carley’s evolving relationship with Daniel as they realize they have basketball in common, and Carley’s new friendship with Toni once they realize they are both outsiders. I also really enjoyed the way that Hunt melded the storyline of the musical Wicked into Carley’s evolution.
While I obviously didn’t love the storyline with her mother and Dennis (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers), the ultimate discovery that her mother wasn’t to blame for what happened almost seemed to arise too suddenly, which negated the absolute horror that I felt at the beginning of the book. This quick shift jarred me a bit, and gave me a bit of disconnect from the feeling that I knew I should have at One for the Murphys‘ conclusion: that Carley would be okay.
And one more minor quibble: I realize that Hunt was trying to impart a sense of place with her regional dialect and her characterization of Mr. Murphy as a Red Sox fan, but the family’s use of “wicked” was a bit over the top, especially for residents of Connecticut. I’ve lived in Massachusetts my entire life, and we don’t even use the word that much!
Regardless, I fully admit that I teared up at the ending of One for the Murphys. A lovely, heartfelt middle grade read.