________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover Leaving Fletchville.

René Schmidt.
Victoria, BC: Orca Books, 2008.
158 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-945-7.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Caitlin Campbell.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Leon sat on a low fence that ran beside the path. "It'll never work," he said as he wiped a tear away. "I just can't do it anymore."

"Do what?" I asked. His head hung down, and he spoke so quietly I could barely hear him.

"Be the dad," Leon said.


"Be the dad," Leon repeated.

"You mean tell Sam when he can go out and all that? If you're the oldest, your dad leaves you in charge, right? You're filling in for your dad when he's away, right?"

"No." Leon kicked at a rock. "There is no dad."

"No dad?" I asked.

"No dad."


Fourteen-year-old Brandon Clifford of Kingsville, ON, is his school's most notorious troublemaker. Considered a lazy, vacuous doofus by peers and teachers alike, Brandon complacently maintains his bad-boy image by refusing to complete homework, getting in fights, and regularly interrupting class. During one of Brandon's many "indoor suspensions," he looks on as the George family — 13-year-old Leon, 12-year-old Winnie, and 10-year-old Sam — registers for school. The school is soon abuzz with word of the new family, the new black family, the only black family in town.

     Brandon takes an immediate interest in the Georges after learning they've moved into his apartment building, and he begins to observe the family from afar. While Winnie and Sam quickly make friends, Leon remains aloof and intensely focused on his schoolwork and his new job at the local grocery store. When Brandon's teacher, Mr. Fletcher, announces a new project called "Fletchville," in which the students pretend they are 25, living on their own and working full-time, Brandon and Leon, the class's two outsiders, team up. Although the two slowly become friends, Leon remains secretive, never inviting Brandon into the Georges' apartment. Brandon suspects something isn't right with the Georges until finally Leon entrusts Brandon with his family's secret: there are no parents. With both of their parents dead and terrified of being separated into different foster homes, Leon, Winnie, and Sam moved to Kingsville hoping to keep clear of the authorities while raising themselves. Entrusted with the Georges' secret, Brandon decides to honor Leon's trust and help this parentless family struggle to survive.

     With his debut novel, René Schmidt gives voice to the children who fall through the cracks, whose struggles go unnoticed, whose responsibilities deprive them of the luxuries of childhood. While Leaving Fletchville's themes are tough, its story is hopeful, and its characters are inspirational. Brandon's first-person narration is fresh and discerning, and his "bad boy" reputation conceals a gentle, compassionate and loyal nature. Most often, Brandon's antics purposefully distract attention from those he considers vulnerable, like the Georges or the boy whose father beats him when he gets in trouble at school for not doing his homework. Throughout the novel, Brandon begins to realize that protecting others and accepting personal responsibility are not mutually exclusive, and under the influence of the three George children, he recognizes the benefits of hard work. Meanwhile, the Georges' determination to stay together, their stoic acceptance of cruel circumstances, and their admirable work ethic demonstrate the great potential of the human spirit.

     While an overly sentimental ending may undermine the harsher realities of the book, Leaving Fletchville, is, overall, an engaging read that teachers will love to discuss with their students.


Caitlin Campbell is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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