The best books about orphans not written by Horatio Alger

Who am I?

Though I’m not personally an orphan, I’ve always been drawn to books that feature them. Maybe it’s because I felt the lack of a father; mine wasn’t around much during my childhood, since he worked at a job in the city through the week. The absent or distant father is a recurring theme in my novels, including the Shakespeare Stealer series, Moonshine, The Imposter, The Year of the Hangman, and Curiosity. Of course, when you write for young readers, orphans also make ideal protagonists, since they’re forced to use their own resources to confront and resolve the story’s conflict, rather than relying on grownups.


I wrote...

Curiosity

By Gary Blackwood,

Book cover of Curiosity

What is my book about?

Intrigue, danger, chess, and a real-life hoax combine in this historical novel from the author of The Shakespeare Stealer.

Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle-grade fiction.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fingersmith

Gary Blackwood Why did I love this book?

I’m a big fan of historical novels, especially ones set in the Victorian era. Waters does a bang-up job of immersing the reader in the era, but where she really shines is in creating believable, relatable characters who, even though they’re flawed, elicit your sympathy. She’s no slouch at plotting, either; the book provides possibly the most shocking turn of events I’ve ever encountered, one of those rare revelations that makes you gasp, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” 

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Fingersmith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times Book Review

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man,…


Book cover of The Eye of Love

Gary Blackwood Why did I love this book?

Okay, this is really three novels, but they’re all linked, and all fascinating. Martha, the orphan, is offbeat, often unlikeable, and yet one of the most compelling characters you’re likely to find in fiction. Though Sharp is best known for The Rescuers and its sequels, this series is in a whole different universe, and definitely not for young readers. (By the way, they’re also very funny.)

By Margery Sharp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Eye of Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

They met at the Chelsea Arts Ball: he went as a paper parcel, and she as a Spanish dancer. Harry Gibson and Miss Diver fell deeply in love...

But when Mr Gibson decides he'll have to marry the hopelessly unprepossessing daughter of his colleague in order to save his ailing business, Miss Diver is cut off without a penny. She's forced in turn to take in a lodger, Mr Philips, who mistakenly takes Miss Diver for a much richer woman than she is...

Watching over them all is Miss Diver's niece Martha, a clumpy, unappealing child of a certain artistic…


Book cover of Soul Music

Gary Blackwood Why did I love this book?

And speaking of funny, they don’t get much better than Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Though they’re usually classified as fantasy, they’re really very pointed satire. He sends up everything from movies to opera to the postal system. Soul Music takes on popular music, and it’s one of his best. 

By Terry Pratchett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soul Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discworld is about to rock...Deputising for death was never going to be easy, not least when he has gone walkabout in search of the Meaning of Life - without even leaving a forwarding address. But for his granddaughter, Susan, it becomes even more difficult when she breaks one of the cardinal rules of the family business - don't get involved! All around the Disc, crowds are shouting out for Buddy Celyn and The Band With Rocks In. They are in the grip of a new and dangerous music and Buddy is under its thumb. It's alive, it changes people -…


Book cover of Great Expectations

Gary Blackwood Why did I love this book?

When we think of Dickens and orphans, we tend to think of Oliver Twist, of course. But Great Expectations is a much more thought-provoking and satisfying book and features not one orphan but two: Pip, the protagonist, and his heartthrob, Estella. She and her adoptive mother, Miss Havisham, are two of the most memorable and fully realized (and infuriating) characters in literature. 

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Great Expectations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'His novels will endure as long as the language itself' Peter Ackroyd

Dickens's haunting late novel depicts the education and development of a young man, Pip, as his life is changed by a series of events - a terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor - and he discovers the true nature of his 'great expectations'. This definitive edition includes appendices on Dickens's original ending, giving an illuminating glimpse into a…


Book cover of Silas Marner

Gary Blackwood Why did I love this book?

I first encountered Silas Marner, as I did so many other great stories, in the form of a Classics Illustrated comic. I liked it well enough, but avoided the novel for decades, assuming it would be maudlin. Not so. It’s very realistic and very moving. Middlemarch is considered Eliot's masterpiece, and I've tried it a couple of times but couldn't really warm to it--even though it, too, features an orphan! Marner, on the other hand, drew me in right away. (Maybe I should try the Classics Illustrated version of Middlemarch?)  

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Silas Marner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gold! - his own gold - brought back to him as mysteriously as it had been taken away!

Falsely accused of theft, Silas Marner is cut off from his community but finds refuge in the village of Raveloe, where he is eyed with distant suspicion. Like a spider from a fairy-tale, Silas fills fifteen monotonous years with weaving and accumulating gold. The son of the wealthy local Squire, Godfrey Cass also seeks an escape from his past. One snowy winter, two events change the course of their lives: Silas's gold is stolen and, a child crawls across his threshold.

Combining…


You might also like...

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in wizards, revenge, and child abandonment?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about wizards, revenge, and child abandonment.

Wizards Explore 94 books about wizards
Revenge Explore 106 books about revenge
Child Abandonment Explore 33 books about child abandonment