Literary Criticism and Significance
Kathryn Lasky is the author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including both fiction and nonfiction titles. Lasky is most widely known for her fantasy series about owls, Guardians of Ga’hoole. Chasing Orion is written in a more realistic vein. The story is fiction but the author drew from her own experiences growing up in during the polio epidemic in the 1950s.
Chasing Orion has received relatively positive reviews from the critics. The Washington Post chose Chasing Orion as a recommended book for its Summer Book Club, and School Library Journal suggests that “sophisticated readers” will enjoy it. Daniel Kraus of Booklist is lukewarm with his review, but he claims that
Georgie’s transformation from Archie comics daydreamer to reluctant hero is convincing, as are her natural interests in clothing, popularity, and sex.
Several critics praise Lasky for her realistic treatment of the 1950s as a historical period. According to Norah Piehl of Kidsreads.com,
Kathryn Lasky perfectly evokes the climate of fear that surrounded the polio epidemic as well as the larger 1950s culture, mores and fads.
Unlike many authors for young adults, Lasky resists the urge to overlay twenty-first-century values on characters from an earlier era. Georgie’s critical reaction to Marge Winkler’s housekeeping and her dismissive mentions of “Negroes” may unsettle some readers, but they provide a good platform for teaching and reflection on a time period.
According to Daniel Kraus, “the story is somewhat hobbled by purposeful dialogue and leaden metaphor.” The characters often act as mouthpieces for communicating Lasky’s themes. Within the novel, Evelyn and her parents seem to exist largely to widen the scope of Georgie’s perspective about Phyllis’s medical condition. Lasky clearly works hard to incorporate the Orion myth and “The Lady of Shallot” naturally into the story, but her efforts are not always successful. At times the characters’ interest in these stories seems too convenient to be true.
Norah Piehl is more generous, praising the way Lasky evokes a girl on “the cusp of adolescence.” In some ways, Georgie is indeed a well-drawn preadolescent girl who loves looking forward to becoming a teenager and who chafes against the way her relationship with her brother is changing as he grows up. However, Maria B. Salvadore of School Library Journal points out that Georgie’s thoughts are perhaps too sophisticated for an eleven year old. She notes that the narrator sometimes seems to be telling the story from a vantage point years later, but the discrepancy between Georgie’s younger and older selves is sometimes unclear.