Starbird Murphy and the World Outside, by Karen Finneyfrock
Sixteen-year-old Starbird lives on the Free Family Farm in Washington State--what you and I, as “Outsiders” might refer to as a cult. On the Farm, everyone is part of the Family. Children don’t know who their biological father is; all the men are thought of as dad, and all the women are thought of as mom. Most of the Family has never touched money, as it can corrupt you. Many Family members are “off-gridders”, meaning that because they were born at the Farm they have no birth certificate or Social Security number. Everyone is given a name--names that would seem strange you and me, like Venus Lake or Gamma Lion--which is Translated by the Free Family’s founder and leader, EARTH, who is supposedly spoken to by the Cosmos. The Cosmos instructed him to start the Farm, and they tell him how to make decisions and when to go on Missions.
But when Starbird was just shy of 13, EARTH left on a Mission to go find more Family members, right around the same time that Starbird’s brother, Douglas Fir, ran away from the Farm. Now it’s three years later, and both of them have yet to return.
Everyone in the Family receives a Calling--whether it be to live in a treehouse or have another child--and when a position opens at the Free Family Cafe in Seattle, Starbird is doubtful that it’s hers. But then she learns that her last name is Murphy, and that her mother disobeyed EARTH and gave birth at a hospital, meaning that she is not, in fact, off the grid, and can legally work. Add all that to the fact that the boy she’s in love with might not have feelings for her, and Starbird decides she might as well just pack up and move to Seattle. But Seattle means braving the complicated world beyond the Farm, and dealing with Outsiders and non-Believers. Is Starbird really ready for the World Outside?
I enjoyed this book for many reasons, one of them being that the topic is just so different than any other book I’ve read. I mean, it’s not every day that you pick up a book and read about communes in rural Washington. It was interesting reading about life on the Free Family Farm, and thinking about the differences between it and my life on the “Outside.” On one hand it seems like it’d be nice to live on the Farm--everyone shares everything, and helps each other out--and on the other hand the idea of never touching money or using a cell phone, and being “off grid”, just seems weird.
However, parts of this book are still relatable. Starbird, after being homeschooled all her life, is dumped into the Seattle public school system, left to fend for herself in the confusing world of high school. If you’ve ever gone from homeschool to public school, or even just moved to another school district, you will most likely have experienced something akin to what Starbird’s going through.
And even if you haven’t had that particular experience, you can probably still relate to Starbird’s boy trauma--old crushes conflicting with new ones, dating drama, those kind of things.
In short, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside has a little bit of something for everybody. You will laugh at some parts, you will cringe at others, and even some will have your chest doing that weird rib-tightening thing because you really, really want to get to the end of the chapter to see what happens. Or maybe that doesn’t happen to anyone else.
And just in case you need one last attraction to convince you to read this book, it has a cool book jacket. Personally, a stand-out cover always helps me decide whether to read a book or not. I’m not saying to judge a book by it’s cover or anything, but you know….
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