The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
Dad and Papa certainly have their hands full with their four boys. Sam is in sixth grade, trying to figure out how to be true to himself and keep his friends. Eli is starting at a new school for the gifted leaving behind Jax, his almost the exact same age brother. Jax misses Eli, but also misses his best friend Henry who is newly interested in girls, and in trying to be “cool”. And little Frog is starting Kindergarten and hopefully making some real (as opposed to imaginary) friends. Of course, there’s also a new neighbor who seems immune to their collective slightly wild charms.
This book somehow evokes more old-fashioned family novels like The Moffats or the newer but vintage feel Penderwicks but with a thoroughly modern take. It does not focus on any one brother, but moves among them while also sharing just enough about their fathers. The topics covered are certainly contemporary ones and Levy’s cast also reflects how diverse families can be, with two dads, two caucasian adoptees, one African-American son and one Indian. The family celebrates both parents’ religions (Christianity and Judaism) while trying to honor holidays important to the birth cultures of their sons.
When reading this book, I immediately thought of Malinda Lo’s “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews” specifically the first point “Scarcely Plausible” (that link is worthwhile read if you have the time). Levy has indeed provided an incredibly diverse cast of characters, but it does not feel contrived to me. While teaching, I never once surveyed my class and thought “Well, this is awfully contrived. What are the odds of an adoptee, a kid with a peanut allergy, an Asian student, a student with ASD, an athlete with theatrical tendencies and an African American all being in my room?” While I know not everyone lives in an area where a class like this is a reality, perhaps, when we encounter such diversity in a book we can all take a moment to smile and appreciate how many readers may have the chance to see themselves, or their classmates, their families, their friends, reflected in a book.
One of my favorite parts of this book was that Levy made the decision to have characters grow apart. While the end features some resolution to difficulties faced in the book, it also acknowledges the permanent changes that occur in friendships and relationships over time. I also think it’s great that characters trusted their parents enough to share their troubles with them, but also had other adults reaching out to them as well. We should all be so lucky as to have such a support system.
My one complaint, and as a former teacher of the gifted, I am perhaps unduly upset by this, but the gifted school that Eli attends does not seem to have any notion of what best practice is in terms of teaching gifted children. No wonder he is miserable. It is disappointing though to show students that there is no middle ground between a regular classroom placement with zero differentiation and a special school that would suck all of the joy out of learning. Currently, it is a struggle in many places for gifted students to receive the type of education they deserve. I very much hope that in the sequel Levy is able to show the adults in Eli’s life advocating for him so that his public school education consists of more than sitting by himself and reading. Public schools can and should meet the needs of gifted learners through special programs or at a bare minimum, differentiation of course work.
Age Recommendation: Grades 3-5. The reading level and the content will probably hit a sweet spot right around Grade 4, but will be accessible to advanced Grade 3 readers. Because the story checks in with family members ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, this may work for a family read aloud.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – The Fletcher family has two dads. When someone asks if the Fletchers have a mother, Frog begins to explain that it takes a man and a woman and an egg. A boy says that a girl is hot and asks his friend for an introduction. The boys joke that one of their friends is in love. Jax is feeling pretty left out as his male friends become more interested in girls.
Profanity – “jerk”, “doofus”, “craaa…napple” the dad says as he stops himself from saying a worse word. Sam says “ass…assinate”. “heck”, “stupid”, “nimrod”, “moron” is used multiple times, Papa swears “a big, loud, four-letter word”, “poop the bed”, “shut it”, Jax makes a “rude gesture”, “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Dad has an uncle who died in combat. Jax gets clawed a bit by the family cat. Dad’s Halloween costume involves an axe in his head and fake blood and brains down his back. Sam tells a ghost story, few details are given, just that a man was killed and his ghost still haunts the area. He continues to tell ghost stories. We learn that one is about a drowned girl; another is about a girl whose doll came to life and tried to stab her. A boy has a dog that bit his sister. Jax has been researching a veteran of the Vietnam War and in researching saw pictures of dead people, which upset him a lot. Jax deliberately throws a football at someone’s head. Sam is offered a crowbar to use in self-defense. An adult neighbor’s (very old) parent dies and the boys see body covered in a sheet being taken from the house.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A group of boys who appear to be high school students are smoking cigarettes.
Frightening or Intense Things – Sam is verbally and physically bullied by a group of older boys. He is able to escape and get to help.