Rodman Philbrick has done it again, this time with a rip-snorting adventure through the Civil War. I don’t normally think of the Civil War as being ripe for humor, but I found myself laughing at Homer P. Figg’s account of his misadventures in tracking down his beloved older brother Harold. No matter how hard he tries, Homer can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. As fast as he escapes from one scrape, he lands smack dab in the middle of another–and usually more dire–fix. Hang on to your hat as you chuckle through The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (Scholastic 2009).
Uncle Squint hoodwinked Harold (who is too young to legally join) into joining the Union Army as a replacement for a rich man’s son. Uncle Squint is making a good profit off the bargain, but Homer is desperate to rescue his brother before he sees his first battle. His journey leads him to encounters with murderous slave catchers, clever crooks, a brave conductor on the Underground Railroad, a peaceable Quaker, theatrical medicine shows, and a hot air balloon pilot. His journey finally leads him straight into the Battle of Gettysburg where he must try to kill Harold in order to save his life. Homer really doesn’t need to make up stories. His real adventures are jaw-dropping enough.
Homer’s narration makes this book a rollicking funny read, but interwoven through the laughs is a lot of information about the seedier side of the Civil War. Homer’s good heart gives it a glow, too. I like how Mrs. Bean, the Quaker’s cook, expresses it best, ” ‘Never thought a boy could be good and a liar, too. But you are’ ” (Philbrick 77).