Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Homer’s 17 year old brother is sold into the Union army by his awful Uncle Squinton, who may not be the meanest man in state of Maine (“there was a meaner man in Bangor once, that poisoned cats for fun”) but according to Homer, he surely is the hardest man in their home county. This, obviously, cannot stand and Homer runs away to save Harold from the war before it is too late. Hi-jinx and Grand Adventures ensue.

This one has been getting a lot of buzz throughout the blogosphere, so I was a little nervous picking it up – expectations getting raised and all that jazz. I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed it. Homer was an exceptionally fun character to hang around. His descriptions were full of life, he’s scrappy and more of a tale-teller than anything. And frankly, he needs to be, since as soon as he gets himself out of one scrape he lands feet first into the next one!

I actually found this book rather refreshing. Philbrick somehow manages to keep this a humorous and light-hearted story (air balloons! travelling circuses/medicine shows! spys!), while maintaining the gritty (slavery, battle scenes, brothers sold into the army against their will). He makes sure to add a gravity and seriousness to the story without any heavy handedness or sugarcoating, and somehow manages to make Homer’s upbeat voice work. It’s a matter of balancing Homer’s dueling and contradictory never-off-the-farm-innocence and his world-weary-street-smart natures. It was extremely well done.

The book is chock full of fun characters. We meet a kindly Quaker who helps to set Homer on a different path (and helps readers to understand that there is more than one way to be a brave man), awful bounty hunters/slave traders named Stink and Smelt (because a stink is not a stink unless it can be smelt), some con-artists, a foolish guardian, a travelling circus/medicine show man and his interesting entourage, and more.

The language must also be mentioned, because it really is what makes this story stand above others. One of my favorite chapters was when Homer was entrusted to poor, naïve, foolish Mr. Willow:

Mr. Webster B. Willow don’t look much older than my brother, Harold. The fine blond hair on his narrow chin hasn’t decided if it wants to be a beard, and his eyes are so close together it looks like he’s studying his nose or trying to see around it. Mostly he seems to be upset about forgetting to take off his hat like a gentleman does when entering a house, and he looks like he wants to leave the room and try again.

I also particularly enjoyed Homer’s description of his Uncle Squinton, which I used in my opening paragraph:

Squinton Leach was the meanest man in the entire state of Maine. I tell a lie – there was a meaner man in Bangor once, that poisoned cats for fun, but old Squint was the hardes man in Somerset County. A man so mean he squeezed the good out of the Holy Bible and beat us with it, and swore that God Himself had inflicted me and Harold on him, like he was Job and we was Boils and Pestilence.

How can someone not fall in love with language such as that?

I’m excited to read the rest of the Mock Newbery titles.


Book Source: Library Copy

1 comment:

alison said...

Great post! I just want to add the audio book is excellent, too. William Dufris really captures Homer's voice and the secondary characters as well. I just googled Mr. Dufris and he is quite an accomplished voice actor!