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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: 'Also Known As Rowan Pohi'

By Ralph Fletcher
November 2011
Clarion Books
ISBN: 978-0547572086

In one memorable M*A*S*H episode, Hawkeye and the crew invented Captain John Tuttle, a remarkable man who had to “die” when a real officer wanted to honor him. Ralph Fletcher uses the same premise to explore how a teenage boy comes to terms with himself and his name in Also Known as Rowan Pohi.

Bobby Steele doesn't have the best life around – his mom left after his father did a horrific thing to her. Bobby's sophomore year is about to start, he has a younger brother starting kindergarten to watch out for, his father goes to AA meetings and work and that's about it. Bobby also has the burden of having the same name as his father, the name splashed across the local news.

One afternoon at IHOP, the snooty kids at a nearby booth leave an application for the esteemed private school they'll be attending. Whitestone has a new multi-million dollar planetarium; Bobby's high school can't afford to have the parking lot refinished. As a lark, the boys fill out the application. Rowan's last name is the name of the restaurant backwards. He's a go-getter from the extremely poor town of Pinon, New Mexico.

Rowan, of course, is accepted to Whitestone. The guys know they'll never be able to come up with transcripts and a Social Security number, so their invention dies after a sudden illness. They bury the acceptance letter and go on with their real lives. Circumstances compel Bobby to dig up the papers and go to new student orientation at Whitestone.

For a short novel (199 pages), there's a lot going on. The ways Fletcher invents for Bobby to stay at the school are creative and fun to read. His encounters with the students there, which are a cross-section of realistic types, are fairly realistic. A subplot with Bobby's old friends is not developed.

Bobby's younger brother, Cody, has an obsession with pretending he is a cliché of a Native American, replete with feather, that isn't explored fully. It's also uncomfortable when this young child, obsessed with fake Indian artifacts, shoplifts, and the aftermath of that episode is used for Bobby's story but not for Cody's story. There is another short attempt to connect with a fictional Native American when Bobby compares one of his friends to Chief Broom in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which will fly right over the heads of young readers who have no connection to the book or film. (Iconoclast alert: Fletcher, who has published several “how-to” writing books for students, also slams To Kill a Mockingbird.) Fletcher does connect Bobby's father to Bobby's story in true Hollywood fashion but in this case, it's fairly successful.

On a superficial level, there is much in this book to enjoy. It does have the bare bones of what could have been an even deeper story.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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