44 pages 1 hour read

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the Murphys

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s middle-grade (young adult) contemporary novel One for the Murphys was published in 2012. It earned a Kirkus starred review and was a Scholastic Book Clubs Editor’s Choice.

This guide references the 2012 edition from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.

The novel explores the foster care system and the way that even its most positive experiences have a nuanced and complex effect on children in foster care. The story spans 80 days in the life of a preteen girl after her removal from an abusive family environment and placement in a foster home that seems too good to be true. Written in the first person, from the girl’s point of view, the story emphasizes the many challenges for a child in foster care: to accept an unfamiliar environment, to be vulnerable enough to share feelings, and to trust the intentions of new people.

Carley Connors and her mother land in the hospital after Carley’s stepfather physically abuses them. Because her mother’s injuries are severe, Carley becomes a ward of Child Services. She stays with a foster family, the Murphys, where she experiences family life grounded in love, support, and kindness. However, just as Carley begins to think about joining the Murphy family for good, she learns that her mother will be well soon and wants her back.

Plot Summary

Eighth grader Carley Connors travels to the Connecticut home of Mr. and Mrs. Murphy and their three sons. Mrs. MacAvoy, the Child Services worker transporting Carley, tells her that she’s lucky to stay with such a kind family. However, Carley doesn’t feel lucky: Her stepfather, Dennis, was recently violent with her physically, and her mother held her by the foot so that she couldn’t escape from him. In addition, Dennis abused her mother, injuring her so badly that she remains hospitalized. As 12-year-old Carley arrives at the Murphys, she has a strange and painful mix of feelings: Betrayal, anger, and bitterness combine with a powerful desire to see her mother and apologize for her role in making Dennis angry. She skips dinner on the first night and sleeps in the room Mrs. Murphy provides to her, which belongs to the youngest son, Michael Eric. She thinks it’s ironic that a sign over the bed reads “BE SOMEONE’S HERO,” as clearly she could never be a hero to anyone.

Carley and her mother lived in Las Vegas before moving to Connecticut. Her mother taught her to be fun and carefree but tough and unemotional. They obtained their clothing by stealing from donation bins, and Carley waited outside casinos while her mother gambled. After moving to Connecticut, her mother didn’t enroll Carley in school and soon married Dennis, whom Carley knew was a bad match. Combined, their love of partying turned into straightforward alcoholism. Her mother was drinking the night she grabbed Carley so that Dennis could kick and hurt her.

Immediately, Carley sees the contrast between her mother and Mrs. Murphy. Mrs. Murphy tends to Carley as she does her own children. She cooks and bakes, makes sure that the children have what they need for school, and gently reprimands impolite behavior. She buys treats and gifts that each one will like for their Easter baskets. Carley initially scoffs at Mrs. Murphy’s neat house, derides her attention to details like what sandwich each child wants for lunch, and refuses to engage in her offers to talk.

Soon, though, Carley realizes that she enjoys Mrs. Murphy’s care and affection. She settles into the local school and makes a close friend, Toni Byers. In addition, Carley begins to helpfully participate in the Murphy family’s activities as if she’s a family member: When Michael Eric has a seizure, Carley stays with Daniel and Adam. Carley tends to the younger boys one night when Mrs. Murphy is ill, and she helps Daniel improve his basketball skills. Before long, Carley appreciates the Murphy household’s stability and begins to wonder about joining the family permanently. When Mrs. Murphy gives Carley money to buy her mother a Mother’s Day Card, Carley sees that her own mother isn’t a good nurturer the way Mrs. Murphy is. She intends to give the card to Mrs. Murphy instead. Carley asks Mrs. Murphy if she can call her “Mom.” Mrs. Murphy, however, gently points out that this would lead to deeper hurt when Carley returns to her mother. Upset, Carley rips up the Mother’s Day card—but then regrets having nothing for Mrs. Murphy on Mother’s Day.

Carley visits her mother in the physical rehabilitation facility where she’s learning to walk again. The two have a strained conversation in which Carley can’t keep silent about her mother’s un-motherly behaviors. Her mother, hurt and angry, tells Carley that the Murphys can have her. Carley flees. During a second visit, her mother tells her that she plans to sign papers to release Carley to foster care for good. Hurt and frantic, Carley returns to the Murphys, where Mrs. MacAvoy and Mrs. Murphy assure her that her mother wants her and in fact risked her life for her. Carley remembers suddenly how her mother tried to protect her from Dennis once she realized his serious intentions. During a third visit, Carley and her mother reconcile, and her mother tells her that they’ll move back to Las Vegas.

However, Carley doesn’t want to leave the Murphys, her school, or Toni. She’s nervous about being with her mother again. Mrs. Murphy confides to Carley that she was once in foster care herself. The experience prompted Mrs. Murphy to work hard for what she really wanted: a family of her own and a stable, supportive home environment. Carley sees that she too can rise above her background and find fulfillment. She then looks more positively on returning to her mother and Las Vegas. She gratefully enjoys a farewell dinner with Toni and the Murphys. Before leaving the next morning, Carley tells Mrs. Murphy that she was her hero.