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The Ogress and the Orphans

I have a soft spot for fairy tales. As Neil Gaiman wrote, "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." For this reason, The Ogress and the Orphans, a middle grade novel by Kelly Barnhill, grabbed my attention. It tells the story of a town that has been beguiled by a dragon, while distrusting the generosity of a kindly ogress. It is an allegory about how to rebuild trust and connection in a community that is coming apart.

While Stone-in-the-Glen was once a lovely town, a series of disasters caused it to fall on hard times. The town is led by a seemingly charming mayor, who promises to protect the town and make it lovely again. Rather than devoting attention to these goals, he instead promotes distrust while robbing the town of its tax money. As a result, hard times have led to hardened hearts and suspicious minds. Outsiders are viewed with fear and anger.

And yet goodness exists in the town. Two elderly caretakers at a long neglected orphanage work to provide a home for the orphans and make their meager resources stretch. An ogress living on the outskirts of town gives mysterious gifts to the citizens of the town, since "the more she gave, the more she seemed to have. It was the best sort of magic." Seeing this, the orphans create a plan to save their town by challenging the stories of greed, selfishness and distrust. Ultimately, this novel is about the stories we tell about ourselves and about each other, and how telling new and better stories can bring communities together.