★★★ Love—true, Godly love—comes from the types of relationships where we can give and take with deep mutual respect and admiration. Sometimes this comes from the family we’re given, but other times, like in Madelyn Rohrer’s The Ugly Popcorn Tree, love comes from the family we make for ourselves. The Ugly Popcorn Tree is a short story following the life of Marty Smith, a twelve-year-old resident of Barclays Orphanage, whose life changes when a Christmas tree-decorating contest almost goes up in flames. After Marty and his friends’ surprise victory at the contest, the media coverage helps all but Marty find loving homes within a few short weeks. Marty, a sweet red-headed lover of books, is afraid he’ll never find a forever home as the oldest resident at Barclays, but the future that God has in store for him is beyond even Marty’s wildest dreams.
The Ugly Popcorn Tree has a clear mission statement articulated in the author’s foreword, and the story rather tidily hits every nail placed. The author’s sense of setting and place is strong, but more details about orphanages in the 1950s would not be unwelcome. Parts of the story were so rich in description and detail (like the rules for the Christmas tree-decorating contest and the process itself) that it was a little restricting for the reader’s imagination, while other sections, like Marty’s life on the Maltby farm, whipped by with too little time for the reader to properly absorb the plot. Reorganizing the structure of the novella could help even out the pace and give the reader a chance to better connect with Marty.
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