The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy is an episodic story depicting a (school) year in the life of a New England family. Sam, Jax, Eli and Frog (a nickname) range in age from 12 to six. They are all adopted, and have different ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, and interests. They have two fathers, one called Dad and one called Papa. Dad is a teacher at a local high school, while Papa runs a computer company from the house. They are, in short, a thoroughly modern take on a stable two-parent family.
The nice thing about The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is that while it has diversity in spades, the diversity feels incidental to the story, rather than being the main point. The kids are the important thing, along with the various growing pains that they go through. Oh, there are new people that the family meets who need to have things explained to them. There are references to the various holiday traditions embraced by the family, in the interest of ensuring that everyone's background is included. But the heart of the book is the individual issues that each boy is going through, and the ways that the Fletchers all come together as a family.
Sam, the oldest son, is struggling to balance his love of soccer with a new interest in drama (and his new interest in a girl who likes drama, too). Jax, the older of two 10-year-olds, is watching his long-time best friend start to act grown-up, in ways that Jax isn't ready for. Eli attends a new school, an academically-focused private school that he really thought that he would like (but doesn't). And Frog? He spends most of his time explaining the absence of his new best friend, who may be imaginary. Mingled with all of these individual stories is friction that the family has with their new, grouchy neighbor, Mr. Nelson.
Things to like:
- The kids are not perfect. They are boys, with all the attendant mess and noise that one would expect. There is lots of soccer and hockey, and the watching of Patriots games on TV.
- The dads are not perfect. They are good parents, who try hard, and who are occasionally overwhelmed. Little email snippets and notes at the start of each chapter help to communicate what the dads are really thinking, at times (particularly emails from Papa to his sister).
- There are frequent reference to "The Fletcher Family Rules", which are things like: no one plays until everyone has finished their homework. Such rules seem necessary in a large family, and are a nice demonstration of structure.
- There's not sweeping resolution, but progress is made in a realistic fashion, in various areas.
Despite the modern composition of the Fletcher family, and the presence of cell phones and screen time, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher has an old-fashioned feel to it. There's a camping trip, a Halloween party, and a scramble to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. There's playing with kids in the neighborhood, and attending Family Night at the kindergarten. No external real-world events tie the story to an exact time (Mr. Nelson is a Vietnam Veteran, but we don't know his exact age), which will keep this book from feeling dated in coming years. It would make a nice companion book to The Penderwicks series, actually, though featuring boys instead of girls.
I must admit that I found The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher to be a bit slow-paced, especially the first half of the book. It took me a while to get distinct pictures of all four boys in my mind, and the episodic plot didn't capture my full attention. This did improve for me in the second half of the book, and I enjoyed the book, but it took me a bit longer to get through than I would have expected.
Still, I think that The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher has a lot to offer young readers, especially boys. Happily, kids who have gay parents, or who are adopted, or who are not white, may find in the Fletcher family a mirror. But I think that most readers will be able to identify with at least one of the brothers. Any reader could get some good ideas from the brothers, about trying new things, not judging people when you don't know what they are going through, and admitting when you have made a mistake. All of this, with plenty of boy-friendly fun along the way. I would consider The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade readers.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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