The Orphan of Awkward Falls

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
The Orphan of Awkward Falls Book Poster Image
Girl fights to save friend in creepy, comic horror tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Josephine is a clever and curious girl who is motivated to dig deeper into the mysteries of Awkward Falls. She uses the library to research her subject matter, and though her judgment of what's safe is not always sound, she is highly practical. Allusions to the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster may go over the heads of some readers, but the story has been parodied in so much media that many may understand this is a send-up of the famous doctor's desire to prolong life, no matter what the cost.

Positive Messages

Though there are plenty of awful people in this book, Josephine's good will toward Thaddeus and her parents' generosity in helping him and his mutant cat are the primary focus. Josephine is interested in everything around her, especially things that fall outside the scope of "normal." Her family values independent thinking and encourages Josephine to solve problems her own way.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Josephine is a nonconformist who is kind and helpful to Thaddeus, despite his initial rudeness to her. She is resourceful and doesn't balk at danger. She also eats only healthy foods and advises Thaddeus to do the same. Thaddeus is a scientific genius.


Insane cannibal murderer Fetid Stenchley kills and eats a small pet dog, and references are made to his past murders. Though he is not successful at killing any humans during the course of the book, he does leave several bite marks on Josephine and other attempted victims. Stenchley manages to bring a corpse back to life and hooks Thaddeus up to a machine that switches brains. Hybrid monsters, including a half-giant spider/half baboon, attack a family, and a fire destroys a home.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this comic gothic tale features an insane murderer who eats his victims, laboratory-manufactured monsters, and adults who are not very smart. However, the scariness is underscored with humor, and readers experienced with the dark wit of Lemony Snicket will understand that the main characters are not in any fatal danger.

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What's the story?

When Josephine moves to Awkward Falls she is immediately intrigued by the gloomy town's mystery. Who is the striking couple in the old photograph she finds in her bedroom? What's going on in the mansion next door? Her curiosity leads her to Thaddeus, a cloned genius who lives on hot chocolate and candy while performing operations on dead pets to bring them back to life with spare animal parts. When a murderer escapes the town's Asylum for the Dangerously Insane, it's Thaddeus he's after, and it's up to Josephine to save him.

Is it any good?

Josephine is likable, and the contrast of Thaddeus's scientific intelligence with his naiveté is funny. The town of Awkward Falls, with its sauerkraut festival and oddball residents, is another source of humor. However, as is often the problem with comical novels of this sort, none of the characters seems real enough to be fully engaging, and the illustrations, meant to add interest and a layer of gothic horror, are often so dark that it's difficult to discern their details. Still, the mystery of Thaddeus' background is intriguing, and deliciously creepy events unfold at an exciting clip as Josephine puts the clues together. The combat between idiot murderer, strange monsters, and clever children is particularly satisfying. Though it's by no means innovative, the book may appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events or Mayrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether the humor in this book outweighs the horror. Did you find Fetid Stenchley truly scary? What was funny about him? Did you ever feel sorry for him? Why?

  • What is the scariest thing about this book? What is the funniest?

  • What do you think of the series of illustrations that open and close the book? Should they have been accompanied by words? Did they add to your enjoyment of the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and funny

Themes & Topics

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