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After a death at the White Camellia Orphanage, young Pip Tatnall leaves Lexsy, Georgia to become a road kid, riding the rails east, west, and north. A bright, unusual boy who is disillusioned at a young age, Pip believes that he sees guilt shining in the faces of men wherever he goes. On his picaresque journey, he sweeps through society, revealing the highest and lowest in After a death at the White Camellia Orphanage, young Pip Tatnall leaves Lexsy, Georgia to become a road kid, riding the rails east, west, and north. A bright, unusual boy who is disillusioned at a young age, Pip believes that he sees guilt shining in the faces of men wherever he goes. On his picaresque journey, he sweeps through society, revealing the highest and lowest in human nature and only slowly coming to self-understanding. He searches the points of the compass for what will help, groping for a place where he can feel content, certain that he has no place where he belongs and that he rides the rails through a great darkness. His difficult path to collect enough radiance to light his way home is the road of a boy struggling to come to terms with the cruel but sometimes lovely world of Depression-era America.


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After a death at the White Camellia Orphanage, young Pip Tatnall leaves Lexsy, Georgia to become a road kid, riding the rails east, west, and north. A bright, unusual boy who is disillusioned at a young age, Pip believes that he sees guilt shining in the faces of men wherever he goes. On his picaresque journey, he sweeps through society, revealing the highest and lowest in After a death at the White Camellia Orphanage, young Pip Tatnall leaves Lexsy, Georgia to become a road kid, riding the rails east, west, and north. A bright, unusual boy who is disillusioned at a young age, Pip believes that he sees guilt shining in the faces of men wherever he goes. On his picaresque journey, he sweeps through society, revealing the highest and lowest in human nature and only slowly coming to self-understanding. He searches the points of the compass for what will help, groping for a place where he can feel content, certain that he has no place where he belongs and that he rides the rails through a great darkness. His difficult path to collect enough radiance to light his way home is the road of a boy struggling to come to terms with the cruel but sometimes lovely world of Depression-era America.

30 review for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

  1. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    When I finished this book, I wanted—for a brief moment—to be a high school English teacher, just so I could assign this in place of The Grapes of Wrath. Sorry, Steinbeck, but A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage manages to elicit all the hungry resignation of Depression-era poverty in a narrative where the character's choices actually matter; sorrow is real, pervasive, and unromanticized, but also not the last word; and language is world-building in wholly unique, beautiful ways. When I finished this book, I wanted—for a brief moment—to be a high school English teacher, just so I could assign this in place of The Grapes of Wrath. Sorry, Steinbeck, but A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage manages to elicit all the hungry resignation of Depression-era poverty in a narrative where the character's choices actually matter; sorrow is real, pervasive, and unromanticized, but also not the last word; and language is world-building in wholly unique, beautiful ways.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Roth

    It's a rare achievement when a work of fiction contains enough detail and nuance about a particular place in history that you, the reader, feel like you understand and inhabit that world. That's how I felt reading Marly Youmans' A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, which is part murder mystery, part road story, but also a poetic rendering of life in the rural South of the 1930s and early 40s. White Camellia tells the lonely story of Pip, a Depression-era orphan who loses his half-brother to a It's a rare achievement when a work of fiction contains enough detail and nuance about a particular place in history that you, the reader, feel like you understand and inhabit that world. That's how I felt reading Marly Youmans' A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, which is part murder mystery, part road story, but also a poetic rendering of life in the rural South of the 1930s and early 40s. White Camellia tells the lonely story of Pip, a Depression-era orphan who loses his half-brother to a horrific, unsolved murder at the Georgia orphanage where he lives. Soon after, Pip decides to leave his squalid existence of picking cotton and sleeping in close quarters, "breathing in the scent of near-naked boys and the stink of the chamber pots." It is the golden age of the hobos, so Pip chooses a life crossing the country and hopping the rails. Like another fictional orphan named Pip, his coming-of-age journey comes at a brutal cost, but he also experiences kindness from a series of eccentric strangers who are drawn to the equally eccentric and fiercely independent Pip. Throughout the tale, Youmans captures the surroundings, mood and language of the era so convincingly you almost expect to find red clay caked around your shoes when you set the book down. If you enjoy beautifully crafted descriptive prose and a coming-of-age story that is in turns heartbreaking and uplifting, check out A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lori Keeton

    The kinship bond between them was tangible, such that the children seemed inseparable, a blood brotherhood of commingled beings. Loss and grief had only made their physical need and ache for each other more clearly manifest. Pip Tattnal and his half-brother Otto were all each had in the world. After the death of their father, they were discarded to live in the White Camellia Orphanage. When Otto is cruelly murdered, Pip longs to know why and doesn’t seem to be getting any answers from those in ch The kinship bond between them was tangible, such that the children seemed inseparable, a blood brotherhood of commingled beings. Loss and grief had only made their physical need and ache for each other more clearly manifest. Pip Tattnal and his half-brother Otto were all each had in the world. After the death of their father, they were discarded to live in the White Camellia Orphanage. When Otto is cruelly murdered, Pip longs to know why and doesn’t seem to be getting any answers from those in charge at the orphanage. Now, all alone in the world, Pip determines to find his place of belonging. An unusual and imaginative boy of 12, Pip constantly read and fantasized about the stories of kings and soldiers within the three treasured books left to him from his father. Among other peculiar characteristics was his aversion to looking anyone in the eye. He disliked pale blue eyes. The only color he loved were brown, the color of Otto’s eyes. From the moment of Otto’s murder he was always searching for guilt in men’s eyes. When he tried to consider who might have done such a deed, who had put his particular set of hands around that neck, and who had crowned Otto in wire, fog seemed to fill his brain. This non-thought and non-answer made a kind of sense. For him, the murder never felt like an enigma. Pip always felt that the plain and simple answer, the killer, was the evil flaming in his eyes. Having made the decision to leave the orphanage behind, Pip chooses to set off into the world by riding the rails like a tramp, a drifter. He takes the memories of Otto with him and is always thinking of his brother. He carries a shell in his bib pocket, a reminder of Otto, which he keeps close to his heart. Pip grows up on the rails, a restless outcast, never able to remain in one place for long. He learns the ways of this life and tries to make a place for himself. However, there is always a nagging sadness that he doesn’t belong to anyone or any place. He search is always for kinship. He meets some very eccentric people along his travels across the country who help heal him. His journey is not a safe one but full of dangers, suffering and pain. Pip’s love for reading about history, battles, Indians, knights and story telling are a bright light within the grief and sorrow of his traveling plight. He was always yearning for knowledge of the past. A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage by Marly Youmans tells a very touching story of a young boy dealing with grief and figuring out his purpose. Not many stories are written from the point of view of a child during the Depression. However, Youmans realistically captures the sights, sounds, scents and mood of this hard-scrabble lifestyle of vagrants hopping the rails. Her prose is descriptive in a very poetic way leaving you feeling as if you were there, wind in your hair, sleeping on a noisy boxcar not knowing from where your next meal will come or who you will meet. Pip’s story is a remarkable coming of age tale filled with heartbreak and hope that he can find the answers and a place where he belongs.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rose Kelleher

    "a masterpiece" I hope this book receives the recognition it deserves. I was going to say it was "beautifully written," but that seems superficial somehow, so I'll say it's ~masterfully~ written. Youmans is a poet, true, but the poetry here is used in the service of the story, to bring scenes and characters to life; it's not decoration. I'm amazed at Youman's ability to inhabit another world so fully, as if she'd been reincarnated and were remembering it all firsthand. As others have noted, you w "a masterpiece" I hope this book receives the recognition it deserves. I was going to say it was "beautifully written," but that seems superficial somehow, so I'll say it's ~masterfully~ written. Youmans is a poet, true, but the poetry here is used in the service of the story, to bring scenes and characters to life; it's not decoration. I'm amazed at Youman's ability to inhabit another world so fully, as if she'd been reincarnated and were remembering it all firsthand. As others have noted, you want to linger over the descriptions and at the same time move forward to see what happens next.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    In the very beginning of the book I remember thinking this is kind of a meandering mess, not sure this is for me...and than a handful of pages later tears were running down my cheeks. The book contains some wonderfully memorable characters, is unique and worth reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Sublime, a new American classic is born.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    Pip Tatnall left the White Camellia Orphanage after the death of his brother Otto. Pip ran to the nearest railroad station and jumped on a box car. He traveled and saw the country side. He stopped and visited libraries reading all he could about the United States. He eventually found his way home to his family. Life was a struggle during the depression of 1929. Pip found his way through words in books. The author did such a good job setting the stage for a very interesting book. I loved how poeti Pip Tatnall left the White Camellia Orphanage after the death of his brother Otto. Pip ran to the nearest railroad station and jumped on a box car. He traveled and saw the country side. He stopped and visited libraries reading all he could about the United States. He eventually found his way home to his family. Life was a struggle during the depression of 1929. Pip found his way through words in books. The author did such a good job setting the stage for a very interesting book. I loved how poetic the book was.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Skywark

    A peculiar orphan boy, Pip is eleven when his brother is murdered at the White Camellia Orphanage in Emanuel County, Georgia in the 1930's. Pip manages to escape by hopping a freight train and becoming a young hobo. When he arrives in Savannah, he is nearly killed by a railroad bull (bouncer), but is rescued by an assortment of characters who nurture him back to health. Some time later he returns to riding the rails, detached from any familial connections, yet during his travels, he yearns for s A peculiar orphan boy, Pip is eleven when his brother is murdered at the White Camellia Orphanage in Emanuel County, Georgia in the 1930's. Pip manages to escape by hopping a freight train and becoming a young hobo. When he arrives in Savannah, he is nearly killed by a railroad bull (bouncer), but is rescued by an assortment of characters who nurture him back to health. Some time later he returns to riding the rails, detached from any familial connections, yet during his travels, he yearns for something nameless and carries a talisman, a tiny shell that he believes contains the spirit of his murdered brother, Otto. Author Youmans has given Pip an astonishing voice, bringing to this story a crystalline and luminous magic.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cassaundra Aunna

    I won this book on Goodreads First Reads. At first I was unsure if this book was for me. It started out slow, and discouraged me, but the longer I stuck with it the more beautiful it became. This book is truly one of the best written and most involving book I have ever read. It sucks you in, and you can put it down. A wonderful tale full of adventure, love, loss, and the importance of family.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    Beautifully written book about a young boy who runs away trying to heal from the murder of his younger brother. The lead character is brilliant, but with a learning disability, so the connections he is able to make with other people is all the more powerful. Gorgeous writing, and many funny passages. Highly recommend.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Josie Cook M.A.

    Pip is definitely driving the storyline along with his voice and POV. His loss is always in the back of his mind. Otto and the shell he picked up from the grave are with him as he rides the rails. When he meets up with Til and his whole group, their events really start getting interesting. His experience with the birth of the child is a wonderful reflection on receiving such a gift in life. When he sets off again on the rails, I'm enthralled with his love interest. Opal is a mystery to him and to Pip is definitely driving the storyline along with his voice and POV. His loss is always in the back of his mind. Otto and the shell he picked up from the grave are with him as he rides the rails. When he meets up with Til and his whole group, their events really start getting interesting. His experience with the birth of the child is a wonderful reflection on receiving such a gift in life. When he sets off again on the rails, I'm enthralled with his love interest. Opal is a mystery to him and to the reader. The interaction between Youman’s characters is fascinating as I continue to read this story and it unfolds brilliantly. Pip's interests in metaphors are refreshing. I like how he is used to explain the relationship between these different metaphors. A scene where Youman’s shows the reader the train approaching is so well thought out and descriptive with the real image coming into focus as I read it. The bull is a scary scene with the threat of being discovered, and the looming darkness of the dangers encountered on the rails in a boxcar. I think this is a point inside the book where there is rising conflict. Another place is where Pip is looking for Opal. She has been gone for over a year without surfacing. I could feel the characters conflicts between them, as Pip asks about Opal. They turn against him and show him what he didn't notice when she was around. Marly Youman’s is a master at scene building and engaging the senses with thoughts of smell, visions, and motions. On page six, “The shrubs made a towering outer wall to the porch and kept the air whirring with bees and hummingbirds in the day. As green and glistening as camellias, they might have been an inspiration for Mr. Sam when he set his mind to naming.” Wonderful images in color with the activity of the flying creatures present in the scene. On page eight, “…watching for Miss Versie’s rusty cans of zinnias, cautious as he bent to swing under the half-downed cedar wrapped in trumpet vine.” –here I can imagine the colorful images and landscape. My child hood home had an orange trumpet vine growing up one corner of it. On page 29, “He liked his brown eyes.” –Brown eyes and admiration for them become a recurring theme in the novel. On page 30, “Intent, Pip looked at the man, searching to know whether he could be trusted. In the end, all he was certain about was that the eyes were brown, like Otto’s.” —again referring to eye color and his brother. Eyes are important to him. The mirror of the soul. On page 34, in the last paragraph, those colors “a tint he could almost feel.” What a lovely way to express his feelings to the reader. His point of view about the ghosts is so refreshing~! I love this; truly, a wonderful influence with happy reflections and his gesture of giving is the flower. He wishes to talk to Otto at least one more time—made me cry. On page 36, to catch the haints with conch shells. The third paragraph is full of telling images and his wants in life. He wants to travel and take in the sights and the surroundings. On page 75, at the top, the shell is discussed (a symbol), and Pip has a hard time explaining the meaning of the shell and what it represents to him. He thinks Till would understand him carrying it around in memory of Otto. However, he can’t speak it, but he reflects on it quietly to himself. This is a very touching scene with strong emotions. This scene shows his inner soul, and how he views the character called Till. On page 98, “Free as a doodlebug puttering in the dirt.” —my father often referred to me as Doodlebug when I was growing up. Love this nickname and the reference here in your scene. Till is a wonderful character that always frames everything in a positive way. This makes me want to meet him! On page 110, The character named Mrs. Looner is so full of spark. Towards the bottom of page, where Pip tells her his story, I couldn’t help laughing at her response and remarks. “That is just disgusting. And President Jefferson wrote about this man?” Her reaction is quite lovely, even though the subject matter isn’t suitable for the situation at hand. (in her mind and in her way of thinking—I agree) Their world comes together with Till creating his world of tabby. It is where Pip sees a fantasy world and he thinks about the power of poetry, but tells the history lessons through his stories. Pip is there recovering as Till is taking care of Casimiria Pulaski Fogg. Clemmie and Bill are a couple and the tenants of Till. All of them, sharing food and conversation. They form the small village of Roseville. I admire their unique close group--how they relate to each other. As these relationships progress Pip forms deep attachments for these people. He starts feeling attracted to Clemmie. On page 204, The practice of bird watching is introduced into the story with Pip and the conflict-building scene outside. Mr. Mangum sends Pip off to class. Pip keeps thinking about Lavadera’s pink dress and how she looked in it. This brings back memories of Opal and what they shared in the tall grass. He gets distracted by his daydream of her. The teacher calls on him. The teacher refers to Pip as a history bug. The students giggle when he stands up to answer, but he recovers well. On page 231, Pip looks for the house and the water tower, and he doesn’t find them. Empty and burnt out. I love the reference point being a water tower. Always an object to be remembered and admired for what it stands for and what it provides to a community. Mr. Sam’s estate items become significant and vital to the mystery surrounding the death of Otto. Truetlen wouldn’t give up any information, so Pip had to find the clues on his own.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    Following a death at the White Camellia Orphanage in depression era Georgia young Pip takes to riding the rails in search of self understanding. Being a bright kid with a vast knowledge of history and a tendency for living in a rich fantasy world that exists only in his imagination, he finds several makeshift families on the way to finding one to truly call his own. Books like this are why I read. Totally different storylines but especially recommended to those who enjoyed This Tender Land by Wi Following a death at the White Camellia Orphanage in depression era Georgia young Pip takes to riding the rails in search of self understanding. Being a bright kid with a vast knowledge of history and a tendency for living in a rich fantasy world that exists only in his imagination, he finds several makeshift families on the way to finding one to truly call his own. Books like this are why I read. Totally different storylines but especially recommended to those who enjoyed This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger or Cider House Rules by John Irving. 5 stars - Read for 1/21 On The Southern Literary Trail

  13. 5 out of 5

    James Korsmo

    "Go up the trail rejoicing. Pip thought about that; it seemed quite different from his own philosophy of trying to find the change that would help" (157). Pip is an orphan who sets out to ride the rails after finding is half brother murdered outside the orphanage where they live. Having lost his closest companion and the only family he really knows, Pip sets out in search of himself and a place in the world. This powerful novel depicts the America of the Depression years, an apt setting for the "Go up the trail rejoicing. Pip thought about that; it seemed quite different from his own philosophy of trying to find the change that would help" (157). Pip is an orphan who sets out to ride the rails after finding is half brother murdered outside the orphanage where they live. Having lost his closest companion and the only family he really knows, Pip sets out in search of himself and a place in the world. This powerful novel depicts the America of the Depression years, an apt setting for the wanderings of this lost boy. Youmans's characters are brimming with life, and she writes powerfully.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I received an ARC through Goodreads Giveaways. I found this book to be quite beautiful. The prose was almost melodic in nature, clearly written by one who is great a poetry. The book poignantly brought the lives of the poorest sect in the Deep South during the Great Depression to life, while also pulling the reader into the mind of a pained child's mind on this great journey to understand life and death. At times I will admit my mind wandered a bit, but quickly I was pulled by back. I definitely I received an ARC through Goodreads Giveaways. I found this book to be quite beautiful. The prose was almost melodic in nature, clearly written by one who is great a poetry. The book poignantly brought the lives of the poorest sect in the Deep South during the Great Depression to life, while also pulling the reader into the mind of a pained child's mind on this great journey to understand life and death. At times I will admit my mind wandered a bit, but quickly I was pulled by back. I definitely recommend this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alarie

    It’s quickly obvious why this novel won The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Youmans balances the drawling poetic language of the South with action-packed adventure. She sets us in the Great Depression through the first year of WWII, where we find ourselves coming of age along with young Pip. Already an orphan, a brutal murder makes him question where he belongs in the world and whether he’ll be able to trust and love again. At only 12, he heads off into the world to try to find his answers, and w It’s quickly obvious why this novel won The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Youmans balances the drawling poetic language of the South with action-packed adventure. She sets us in the Great Depression through the first year of WWII, where we find ourselves coming of age along with young Pip. Already an orphan, a brutal murder makes him question where he belongs in the world and whether he’ll be able to trust and love again. At only 12, he heads off into the world to try to find his answers, and we keep our fingers crossed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Maryann

    I was fortunate enough to win this book in a goodreads giveaway. The writing was a bit heavier prose than I am use to but the way the story unfolded was amazing. The boy in the story, Pip, grew up as no child should ever have to, but by the same token the experiences that shaped him did not leave him destroyed as they might have. The characters that helped shape him were richly portrayed. Highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    I was one of the fortunate ones to win this book in a giveaway for free on Goodreads First/Reads. I'm glad I did. The physical aspect of the book is beautiful- Very well made. I enjoyed the story (5-stars) and don't want to spoil it. I highly recommend A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage as a book to read- I have added this book to my favorites. (so pretty on my bookcase) The story has earned it's place on my shelf to stay- *never to leave :) I was one of the fortunate ones to win this book in a giveaway for free on Goodreads First/Reads. I'm glad I did. The physical aspect of the book is beautiful- Very well made. I enjoyed the story (5-stars) and don't want to spoil it. I highly recommend A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage as a book to read- I have added this book to my favorites. (so pretty on my bookcase) The story has earned it's place on my shelf to stay- *never to leave :)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    After Pip (dontcha love that name?) suffers a great loss at such a young age at the White Camellia Orphanage, off he goes. He travels the country by boxcar, meeting some wonderful people along the way, including his first love. But the yearning for home is strong and when opportunity arises, he heads back. The writing was superb--it had a wonderful rhythm to it. Great story!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicolle

    An interesting read about a young boy with a mental disability and his journey to find himself. I enjoyed many of his adventures, but it was not a book I was overly-eager to read. It might have been because I attended the book club meeting about the book before reading it. My review may have been different if I didn't know what was to come. An interesting read about a young boy with a mental disability and his journey to find himself. I enjoyed many of his adventures, but it was not a book I was overly-eager to read. It might have been because I attended the book club meeting about the book before reading it. My review may have been different if I didn't know what was to come.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten Elson

    Initially, I didn't like this book. I decided not to finish it. I picked it up again...just before calling it over, and just kept on reading. I know the descriptive prose got in the way for some people, and it did for me at first, but that might be because I was expecting it to. This is a good story, with a "settling" end. Initially, I didn't like this book. I decided not to finish it. I picked it up again...just before calling it over, and just kept on reading. I know the descriptive prose got in the way for some people, and it did for me at first, but that might be because I was expecting it to. This is a good story, with a "settling" end.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    An idiosyncratic tale of a boy's life during the Depression. Unique and creepy and sometimes funny. Bitter and sad and in love. Full of Southern speech, detail, myth, and scar. And magic somewhere between the lines. An idiosyncratic tale of a boy's life during the Depression. Unique and creepy and sometimes funny. Bitter and sad and in love. Full of Southern speech, detail, myth, and scar. And magic somewhere between the lines.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marlo

    Poetic and thoughtful, this story quietly won me over. It wasn't a book I wanted to devour in one sitting, but the character was so different from any I've read before and the descriptions so vivid, I needed to finish. Poetic and thoughtful, this story quietly won me over. It wasn't a book I wanted to devour in one sitting, but the character was so different from any I've read before and the descriptions so vivid, I needed to finish.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I loved this book. Pip was so tender and wonderful. Interesting, heart breaking, lovely. I especially loved that I have read two books in a row where the answer to the heart breaks in life is love, always love.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Loved this southern journey I could not predict this book and I loved every minute of it. Only a few characters in the book are fully developed, but that is how the main character perceives the world. The author writes with rich descriptions and wit.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rach

    I enjoyed chapter 8. Mrs.Youmans knows how to write a book. Though, I did expected more, I was satisfied with it. :). I received this book for free from Goodreads First Reads.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Martin

    Beautiful prose! The main character is complex and multi-faceted. I am already fully committed to him and sincerely hope he ends up okay.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Well written and beautifully worded story of Pip, his adventures on the rails and thoughts.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim Weinbach

    4.5 stars.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Beth Taylor

    Very intriguing writing. I loved it!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hiddymorgan

    Wonderful prose! I loved the book.

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