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The Orphanage of Miracles by Amy Neftzger

The Orphanage of Miracles (2012)

by Amy Neftzger

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6932173,491 (3.6)15



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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What could have been a same-old same-old story was anything but. Ms. Neftzger has won herself a life-long fan. Though this tale of an Orphanage that creates/harvests/finds miracles and the orphans that live there seems aimed for the middle-grade set, this 30-something Reader thoroughly enjoyed herself. At times the moral "point" seemed a bit heavy-handed, but it wasn't anything that was necessarily a detraction from what Amy was trying to say with her work. And the illustrations (by Cory Basil) were spot-on, very lovely and warm. Really, quite a good book! ( )
  LauraBrook | Jul 15, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Even though the high level premise felt similar to other books, The Orphanage of Miracles caught my attention with the subtle variety in the plot. The story takes place in an unknown medieval land where magic is real and an evil sorcerer has waged war against the people and king. Seems like a pretty mundane synopsis. The difference comes with the idea of the Orphanage of Miracles. Not much is told about this Orphanage other than that it exists as a mystical place somewhere in the land where miracles are somehow manufactured. I immediately thought of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, but after that imagery died down, I gave the book a chance. The book has two main stories working to meet one another.

A girl named Kelsey has left her home on a quest to find the Orphanage of Miracles. There’s a disaster in her home town and she’s determined to help if she can. She’s not thinking about the bigger picture of getting a miracle for the entire land as a way of ending the war. As she travels, Kelsey meets some interesting characters who both help and hinder her journey.

Meanwhile, a parallel story is presented. The reader finds out that the Orphanage DOES exist but something isn’t quite right. We follow the life of Nicholas, a young orphan inside the Orphanage. We learn that the orphans each assigned a different specific job or calling to perform. Nicholas and his friends have had bad luck trying to find their perfect calling but they are excited because their new prospect involves working directly with the creation and cultivation of Miracles. As Nicholas’s story progresses, it becomes very clear that there are major problems at the Orphanage. The entire Orphanage is shrouded in mystery both from the outside world and even to those living and working inside its walls.

As the story progressed, I saw a number of moral allegories presented. Some were more veiled than others. I think for the intended age range (grade schoolers, probably maxing out at middle school), the symbolism and suggestions may be subtle enough to be interesting ideas without being overt commentary on ethics or other moral issues. I personally found the messages to be refreshing in their veiled subtlety as a way of helping present some thoughtful ideals for children to digest.

There were a few times where I felt like the editing could have been tightened up again. The biggest problem I felt was that the mystery was perhaps a bit too obtuse which could lead to unnecessary confusion. There were a lot of elements that were left very vague or completely undefined. I saw this as a core plot device to keep even the nature of the mystery intentionally ambiguous. This became problematic during the last few chapters of the book when the revelations came flowing out with such rapidity as to be a little disorienting. Still, this imbalance was acceptable in light of the length and nature of the story.

I really enjoyed the light tone and writing of this book. The presentation of the story and the mystery were both compelling and easily accessible for young readers. I didn’t initially know that this was the first book in a series. The book ends with a nice conclusion that wraps up a lot of the core mysteries and issues with the story but it also opens up a compelling new plot that I’m genuinely interested in following up in the next book. Overall, this is a nice, light read with slightly deeper themes and ideas lingering just below the surface.

3 out of 5 stars ( )
  theokester | Jun 9, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
While the premise is quirky in this middle reader novel, the characters are engaging and the action is interesting. I particularly enjoyed the strong female protagonist. I received this book through the Early Reviewer program, and enjoyed the couple of hours it took to read it, but I don't think this is the sort of book I will find myself returning to time and again. Enjoyable, but not necessarily lasting. ( )
  sstaheli | May 21, 2014 |
What an incredible journey [Amy Neftzger] takes us on in [The Orphanage of Miracles]! As a public school teacher as a got to the end it seemed to me an allegory for what is happening to our education system. That even though they have good intentions, the people in charge are stifling "miracles". You can not have success without failure, it is how we learn.

Of course I may be reading too much into this as I have a tendency to do when I am passionate about something. The "quest" of Kelsey helped her to grow. At the same time the "questioning" of Maggie, Nicholas, and Jovan helped them free themselves.

I definitely recommend this book! Never stop growing miracles! ( )
  MsHooker | May 15, 2014 |
A serious quest with a silly journey to a place made for miracles, The Orphanage of Miracles was a zaney read that kids will enjoy. It was full of nonsensical things that of course made complete sense!

Everyone knew that the orphanage had an enchanted forest on one side, but no one seemed to know exactly on which side it was located. Every time someone identified where it was, it seemed as if that part of the forest moved somewhere else. – pg 2

The description aptly tells you everything you can expect down to the key characters. It is a story however, mostly told from two perspectives: that of Nicholas (a boy who lives and works in the Orphanage of Miracles) and Kelsey (a girl in search of a miracle). I expected a very traditional high fantasy setting but instead it was this strange mix of modern and fantasy. The land is magical and things are strange but then there are frequently references to things from our world. There were a few times where I was like “that is so spot on” – for instance:

It’s a Monday. We all know that there are no miracles on Mondays. – pg 5

It’s fine that things from our world were regularly referenced because it allowed easy comparisons, but I did fid myself wishing it were fully fantasy. Still it was full of magic and magic of course is always loads of fun!

Seeing magic would be more like personally knowing the artist instead of just looking at the sculpture the artist has made – pg 2

There are several types of journeys that I feel “questing” fantasies frequently fall into. The Orphanage of Miracles is very much the ‘annoying bratty character coming of age and growing into a better person’ type. Personally, I’m always tormented when I read this kind of fantasy because I find it very hard to enjoy reading when I want to constantly slap the main character. Kelsey is one of those characters, she was full of herself, annoying, self indulgent, and always looking for the easy way out. That is all part of the point and necessary to this story and thankfully as far as quests go hers was a super enjoyable one to read!

Quests are a huge inconvenience. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, even if that person has experience. The problem is that people forget the pain and aggravation as soon as the quest ends successfully, and then they remember only the glorious parts. In this way quests are a bit like childbirth, even to the point of saying that quests often give birth to glory. Maybe. – pg 13

Now, Nicholas was the total opposite of Kelsey! He was a wonderful child and I couldn’t get enough of him. I found myself wishing more time was spent in the Orphanage of Miracles and less time following around Kelsey. I loved the idea of making miracles and all of the crazy ways they tried to make them, catch them, grow them…you name it and Nicholas and his friends Jovan & Maggie were trying it.

I love the witty and snarky characters of Meghan the Snow Leopard and the Sisters of Wisdom. There was another female character, Maggie – that I felt was rather similar to Kelsey. They read like much the same person, what with their snappish behavior. But there was just this undefinable something that made Maggie pleasant and likeable where as Kelsey was not. I still assume this was the intention since you get to start liking Kelsey at the end as her character grows.

This is a scene that made me fall in love with Maggie:
“How is destruction beautiful?” He asked in a challenging tone. “You may think that a broken egg is ugly and messy,” she answered, “but the cake it goes into is beautiful and won’t hold together without it.” “Eggs don’t get blown up. They get broken.” “You’ve never seen me bake,” she replied with a smirk. – pg 37

I have but one complaint and it almost nearly made me knock my review down 1 star. It was the very last chapter. But I can’t fault a book so much for just one chapter – no matter how much it got on my nerves, especially since I loved the whole book except those last 10 pages. I felt the entire chapter was way too much “explaining all the things that don’t need explaining” – 10 pages worth of that! – it was done in the wise teacher to the unknowing student style. Where everything down to the simplest concepts were explained and I hated that. I feel like it belittles the reader as well as the character in the story, because all of this information the reader has already gathered along the way while reading the book. So it was just a rehashing of everything that you know by this point already. If I could I would condense that whole chapter down to one page and it would have had so much more impact.

Ultimately, there was so much to be loved in The Orphanage of Miracles and I would recommend it to any pre-teen for a fun read about going in search of what you want, but instead finding what you need. ( )
  Pabkins | May 2, 2014 |
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The most astonishing thing about miracles is that they happen. (G.K. Chesterton)
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The day Nicholas arrived at the orphanage, the autumn came and never went.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0984803483, Hardcover)

Perhaps everyone could use a miracle, but very few will find the one they truly need.

Amid a war torn land and hidden deep within an enchanted forest lays an orphanage where miracles abound. It s a magical place created years ago by a resolute king who must defeat an evil sorcerer waging bitter war against his land and his people. He knew that in order to save his people, victory would require a miracle.

A young girl named Kelsey also desperately needs a miracle. She sets out on a quest to find the whispered-of orphanage. Along the way she s joined by several traveling companions, including an over-sized snow leopard and a boy who cannot speak. In a land under a spell cast by the evil sorcerer, it's difficult to know the difference between what's real and what isn't ... and what a true friend looks like. Join Kelsey and her companions as they embark on an extraordinary adventure and a quest unlike any other and take a peek inside The Orphanage of Miracles.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:22 -0400)

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