It was a twist of fate that brought Rowan Pohi into existence. He was an imaginary character created for a laugh; Bobby and his friends Marcus and Big Poobs imagined the perfect applicant for the snooty Whitestone Prep school. To their surprise, Rowan gets in. Having taken the joke as far as it will go, Bobby and his friends have a funeral ceremony for Rowan, and that should be that. But Bobby is looking for a chance to escape his own life, and Rowan might represent that. Soon Bobby-as-Rowan is attending Whitestone: befriending wealthy classmates, enjoying the difficult classes, dodging questions about his background. How long until his luck runs out?
One of the keys to this novel working is understanding why Bobby wants to risk so much to become Rowan. This part is well set up. Not only is Bobby's home life something that he wants to run away from (only his younger brother Cody is holding him back), but he also shares his name with his father. He can't create his own identity because he's in the shadow of his father. I could easily understand the attachment to Rowan, although there were some times where I didn't quite understand why Bobby's friends treated Rowan as if he was an actual person and not a prank. There's something about this book that I could see working quite well as a Disney-esque TV movie, particularly as the book marches toward its dramatic climax.
I do have to say, though, that I was troubled by the passages where Bobby's brother Cody played at being an "Indian." His behaviour included wearing feathers in his hair, playing with a "tomahawk," and calling himself an "Indian boy." While this plays into the larger themes of identity and acceptance of yourself, I was uncomfortable in seeing it play out this way. (There is a passage at the end of the book - MILD SPOILER ALERT (not really related to the main plot) - when Cody says that "Being Spider-Man is way cooler than being an Indian." While Cody is, at five years old, a small child, statements like that go completely unchecked without any indication that there is a very real difference between the two.) Check out Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature blog for another perspective on this type of behaviour.
Check out Ralph Fletcher's website.
I received an advance reading copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Find it at IndieBound.
Read it with:
How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher
Spider Boy by Ralph Fletcher
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek