Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

"It's a bit over the top, don't you think?" my wife asked after we'd both read The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg.

"Yeah, it is, but don't you think kids will love it? It's just one adventure into the next," I responded.

We both thought for a moment, then realized at nearly the same moment, of course it's over the top. This is Homer P. Figg telling the story here, and if readers learn anything, it's that lying comes to Homer like buzzing comes to bees. This is the boy who warns readers at the beginning of chapter one, "Telling the truth don't come easy to me, but I will try, even if old Truth ain't nearly as useful as a fib sometimes."

Homer and his brother, Harold, live with their uncle, Squinton Leach, who believes the boys are to him as Boils and Pestilence are to Job in the Bible. Simply put, old Squint ain't happy unless he ain't happy, and by simply living, the boys do plenty to make sure Squint ain't happy.

When Squint catches Homer eating a bread crust intended for the pigs, Harold stands up for his brother. Enraged, Squint leaves the farm and returns with local officials. He swears that Harold is 20 (he's really 17) and sells him into service in the Union Army for $200. Homer can't stand the prospect of losing his brother so he runs away, a fibber trying to find his brother and convince others of the truth.

Harold meets a cast of characters, each more dastardly or noble or pious than the next. There's Stink Mullins and Ebenezer Smelt, slave catchers willing to return free men for the reward. Next Homer meets Jebediah Brewster, a big, bold Quaker aiding runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. There's bumbling preacher-to-be Webster B. Willow, swindling shysters Kate and Frank Nibbly, and the proprietor of a traveling medicine show, Fenton J. Fleabottom, Professor.

Homer's quest leads him from his home in Pine Swamp, Maine to New York, into New Jersey, and finally to Pennsylvania. He eventually does catch up with Harold, but the truth he discovers about war is different from what he expects. Author Rodman Philbrick brings Homer's mostly true adventures to a close by showing how Homer and Harold played a role in one of the most famous battles of the Civil War and, quite possibly, changed the course of United States history.

And that's the truth. Mostly, anyway.

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