Thursday, September 11, 2014

2015 Contenders: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, by Dana Alison Levy

Back in 2005, Jeanne Birdsall did such a good job of updating the traditional "family novel" that her effort, The Penderwicks, won the National Book Award for Young People. I am, *ahem*, kind of a Penderwicks fan, but I have to give some credence to one of the most common critiques of the series: that in attempting to establish a "timeless" tone, Birdsall actually fails to create an accurate portrait of the modern world. There are cell phones and computers in Penderwickia, but they are rarely used. The sisters never play video games. I don't think they even mention tv.

Not so with the Fletchers, of Dana Alison Levy's debut novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. The Fletchers text and email (sometimes with hilarious results). They say "dude," and "sick," and "awesome," and occasionally other, less printable words* (they all contribute to a "rude word jar" when they slip up).

They are a thoroughly modern family in composition and background as well: two dads and four adopted sons (two white, one African-American, one Indian). Levy deliberately downplays the diversity of the family - letting their traits and backgrounds emerge naturally in the course of the narrative - and in doing so she makes her focus clear. This is primarily a family story, in the classic mode of All-Of-A-Kind Family, Little Women, and Ginger Pye, and the Fletchers just happen to reflect what a family might look like in the 21st century.

In her own Goodreads review of the book, Levy says, "I'll be honest, I am a sucker for `comfort food' books - you know, books you can curl up with and feel like the world is an okay place for a little while," and that is exactly what you should expect from the Fletchers: comfort. Everyone in their little Massachusetts (I think? Possibly Maine?) town seems cool with the whole gay parenting thing, and the boys worry more about being ostracized for their thespian leanings than their racial backgrounds. Is that a flaw in the book? I would argue that it's not, because one, it's reflective of the genre, and two, isn't this what we mean with the whole "we need diverse books" campaign? That we need books about all kinds of diverse characters leading all kinds of lives?

I have to admit, though, that this book is precisely my cup of tea, so I'm biased. If I were on the Newbery Committee, it would definitely be a contender for one of my nominations - great characters, lots of humor, multiple well-realized settings, etc. Once we reached the discussion stage, I'm sure one of my other committee members would help me see it through less rosy lenses.

Since I'm just armchair quarterbacking, though, I'll just sit here and bask in the Fletchers' glow (until one of you'un comes to tell me otherwise).

*And can I just say how happy that makes me? Granted, the Penderwick paterfamilias deals with the chaos of the household by retreating to his office as often as possible, but even so, you can't tell me that having four children in the house would not result in the parent(s) screaming profanity at least once a week. I mean, I only have one child, and if I had a rude word jar in my house, its earnings would probably outpace my 401K.


  1. Oh yes! I've been toying with raising it as Newbery contender so I'm so happy you have here. I reviewed it for Horn Book and loved it.

    1. I'm so glad! I never trust my opinion when I like a book too much.