A review by panda_incognito
Changes for Samantha: A Winter Story by Valerie Tripp, Dan Andreasen


The great orphanage escape story! I cannot count the number of times that my sister and I acted out stories like this with various friends, and reading this is a quite a blast from the past. However, I experienced the book very differently as an adult, with a different focus and takeaway message. (Spoilers to follow.)

As a child, I was always focused on Samantha's adventure, and even though I thought it was unrealistic that an unaccompanied, wealthy ten-year-old child could roam around the seedy places of New York City looking for her friend, I appreciated the new plot about Nellie after she had disappeared from the past three books. Then, after Samantha finds Nellie and her sisters, my focus was always on the exciting escape, and on her efforts to hide them in the attic. At the end, when the maid discovers them and Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia agree to let the girls stay with them, this seemed like a convenient happy ending. I never stopped to fully appreciate what an incredible act of love this is.

WHAT GOOD PEOPLE. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia are goals. As a young, fairly recently married couple, they not only take in Samantha so that her grandmother can travel with her new husband, but they also agree to take in three more orphans. What an incredible act of love and generosity. Reading this book as an adult gave me a whole different perspective, because instead of focusing on Samantha's feelings and choices, I focused on Uncle Gard and Cornelia as "real" people, with deep social concern, abiding love for their niece, and a willingness to create a home even for children that they had no biological tie to.

In today's world, even though adoption outside of one's extended family is far more common, people tend to think of children as unwanted inconveniences or lifestyle accessories. Young couples often joke about wanting to postpone having children, and people often advise them not to take on the responsibilities of childcare, saying that it will ruin their independence and freedom. Meanwhile, here are Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia in the early 1900s, happily taking on the care of four orphans before they've even been married long enough to start establishing a family of their own.

It would be easy to scoff at this as an unrealistic happy ending, but these characters were the kind of people who would do this, and as I tried not to cry over the ending, I thought about all the real people I know who have adopted children from difficult, traumatic situations, and about all the families I know that don't match. I don't know if I will ever be in a situation to foster or adopt children, but I want to be that kind of person, and I want to have Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia's deep love for others. This is a beautiful story, and will always be one of my favorite books from childhood.