Late to the ARC Party: The Boy on the Porch

Sharon Creech's The Boy on the Porch came out last fall.  I just read the ARC that I picked up at last summers ALA Annual Conference.

Oops.

I haven't read any of Creech's more recent work.  When I was in sixth grade, my teacher introduced me to Walk Two Moons, which I read obsessively.  I also adored Absolutely Normal Chaos (I still have a fear of white bathing suits from that book!), Bloomability (Switzerland bucket list!), and Chasing Redbird (treasure maps!).  After being rather confused by The Wanderer, I moved on to other authors.  Creech still holds a special place in my heart, and I booktalk Walk Two Moons at work every chance I get!

Part of my disappointment with The Boy on the Porch stems from my (possibly misguided) wish that it was a return to the earlier style of Walk Two Moons or Chasing Redbird.  A little humor, a lot of heart, and some seriously spunky characters.  I would define The Boy on the Porch as magical realism, but I don't know if it's entirely a children's book.

Boy focuses on the effect that an abandoned child can have on a loving yet childless couple.  John and Marta have a farm and each other, but no children.  It's not implied that their lack of children is an issue, but they willingly take in a young boy who, one day, simply appears on their doorstep.  He has a poorly-spelled note asking whomever finds him to take care of him.  John and Marta, being good people, take care of the boy, whose name is Jacob.

He's very good with animals, though.  Creech strips down life in this timeless, placeless world of John and Marta's: it could be anywhere, anytime.  The only thing to date the book is that they do have automobiles.  Even John and Marta are simple souls who crave simple things.  They take care of their cows and goats.  They slowly begin to care for Jacob as their own.  They ... exist.

I suppose the argument of the book is that giving love freely brings you more joy than you could have ever dreamed for.  And yet ... I felt that this was neither joyous nor hopeful.  As an adult reader, I knew that due to the need for a Plot Conflict, someone would have to come and take Jacob away.  This would make John and Marta very sad.  Then, in reaction to the Plot Conflict, John and Marta would show evidence of Character Growth.  They end up becoming foster parents to lots of different kids, and it brings them joy and special sunshine in their lives.

Let's be clear: I am in no way denigrating or minimizing the impact of people who open up their homes and hearts to kids who really have nowhere else to go.  But, it felt a bit tacked on in this story that had heretofore focused solely on John, Marta, and Jacob. 

Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I'm a little tired of using a person with a disability as a magical savior in a story.  I thought that perhaps Jacob was on the spectrum, especially with his artistic and musical abilities--maybe he's non-verbal, and not mute? 

This might actually be a good book for grownups considering adoption or being foster parents, but I'm not sure if I see a lot of kid appeal here.  It's definitely miles away from Creech's earlier work (which I hope she returns to!).

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