Janessa's Reviews > The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
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Oct 01, 09

bookshelves: middle-grade
Read in October, 2009

One of my favorite parts of each day is when I tuck my kids in bed and read to them. I make the rounds from one bed to the next, with the help of my husband, making sure each child gets a chance to read from his or her own special book. If I take too long getting to my eight year old, Hunter’s, room, I’ll hear his voice, quiet but insistent, asking, “Mom, are you going to read to me?” It is a special time, and I want to make sure it is enjoyable for my kids, so I am careful about which books I choose to read to them.

For the last two years, Hunter and I have been reading fantasy novels together. Some have been really fun: the Chronicles of Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander, The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, and of course, Harry Potter. Others . . . not so much. At least in my opinion. But Hunter seemed to enjoy them all.

Still, I was dying to share something with him that didn’t involve strange, savage beasts, epic quests, magic spells, and swordplay. In other words, something that wasn’t fantasy.

I asked our school librarian for some book suggestions and she showed me The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. It was absolutely perfect. Or in Hunter’s words, “the most amazing book ever.”

I think there are some important elements in True Adventures that endeared it so much to my fantasy lover. First of all, the evil nemesis. Every fantasy book I’ve ever read has a dark, malignant antagonist whose existence is a threat to life and happiness. In True Adventures that antagonist is Squinton Leach. And while he is no sorceror or evil king, the crimes he commits make him just as dangerous. He is the protagonist, Homer Figg’s, uncle, and his negligence and abuse of his two nephews make him every bit as vile as the big Voldemort. Leach initiates the book’s action by selling his underage nephew, Homer’s brother Harold, into the service of the Union Army under the Conscription Law of 1863.

And this is where the next important element begins: the Quest. Homer escapes from Leach and embarks on an epic-like quest to find his brother, rescue him from the war, and bring him home, wherever that might be — anywhere where Leach is not. That quest takes Homer on a journey from Maine southward toward the fighting, where he ultimately witnesses the Battle of Gettysburg. On the way he aides in the underground railroad, joins a traveling medicine show, is taken as a prisoner of war, sees hand to hand combat, rides a steamship, a train, and a hot air balloon, and encounters allies and enemies alike.

Throughout it all, Homer maintains that his allegiance lies with himself and his brother. However, and this is where True Adventures departs from the plot of a more traditional fantasy quest, when he finally tracks Harold down, his brother is somewhat of a fallen hero. Not only that, he doesn’t want to be rescued. The black and white, good versus evil construct breaks down and we find ourselves grappling with issues more common to realistic fiction: discovering and learning how to cope with the good and the evil that lie within all of us.

There is a wonderful element of humor in the book. Homer has an engaging and entertaining voice, and the lies he tells to manuever his way through his adventures had Hunter and I chuckling. But there are also very sober and somewhat graphic scenes, summed up in this poignant dream of Homer’s:

”In my dream Harold will be happy and strong and find him a wife to darn his socks of an evening and give him children that are never hungry and never get beat or locked in the barn like animals, and never have to run away to war to save their big brothers and see arms and legs being stacked like cordwood, or men dying of their wounds, or hear the keening of boys who miss their mothers and beg to see her in Heaven.”

The treatment of the Civil War battles did not come until the end of the book. They were brief, but they were somewhat gruesome. However, I felt that sharing those scenes with Hunter was very valuable. First of all, because of the historical accuracy Philbrick treats the subject with. Second of all, and even more importantly in my opinion, Philbrick shows the human aspect of war and fighting in a profound way that recognizes fear, loss, and pain.

Of course, from the first page there is no question that our resilient protagonist will come out on top, and it was immensely satisfying to reach the book’s conclusion and see just how buoyant, brave, and yes, true, our falsifying friend could really be.

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Jacob Chreky I totally agree


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