Half-Orphan's Handbook
Coming of Age, Contemporary, Grief, Macmillan, Suicide, YA Fiction

The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith



It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.
2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.


I am thrilled to be part of the Xpresso Book Tours Blog Tour for the emotionally thought-provoking debut novel, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook Book Tour by Joan F. Smith. It is a book about grief and finding a way to heal and move on after a tragic loss of a loved one.

Lila didn’t want to go to Camp Bonaventure (Dead Parent Camp to Lila) in Maine. It’s a grief camp you send kids to bond with others who have lost loved ones. At her mother’s insistence, it’s just one more thing out of Lila’s control. Well, at least she’s not going alone. Her precocious twelve-year-old brother Sammy is going with her. 

Lila’s loss of her father is a journey filled with doubts, guilt, loneliness, anger, understanding, and most importantly friendship. I love the strong friendships in this book which I see as lifelong. Who better to understand you, than these kids who are going through the same thing? Lila, Madison, and Winnie come from different backgrounds but are able to talk openly about their feelings which sometimes cannot be done with others you’ve known all of your life.  I must say I love Sammy and I wish I had a thoughtful and cool little brother like him.  As for Noah, Lila’s love interest, his tragic reason for being at the camp is a difficult one and would be very hard to live with. I understand Lila being angry at first about him not telling her and I’m glad she forgave him.

Ms. Smith presents the stages of grief and the stigma of death with a fine balance of young adult humor and revelry and the heartbreaking reality of guilt and loss. Listening to the tragic and real stories of each of the characters is painful as they battle with the question of why it happened and how they deal with it. The activities such as the art show and the Three-Legged Ditch-It Dodgeball game at the camp are clever and well thought out for the mental well-being of the campers and Jeff, the camp director, is an important character in the story who has a tragic background himself.

I recommend this beautifully written debut novel to people of all ages who have suffered a loss. 

Thank you to Ms. Smith for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.


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Half-Orphan's Handbook

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Joan F. SmithJoan F. Smith lives with her family in Massachusetts, where she works as an associate dean, a creative writing professor, and a dance instructor. She received her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, and has written articles for The Washington Post and Thought Catalog on destigmatizing discussions around mental health and suicide prevention. The Half-Orphan’s Handbook is her debut novel.

Follow Joan on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


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