By: Amber Leventry
Dana Alison Levy’s second young adult novel and follow-up to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher did not disappoint. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is what Levy calls a “love letter to summer, a book about brothers and ice cream trucks and growing up and seals and family”. It is certainly all of those things, and as fall begins, it is a great way to hang onto the memories of lazy summer days. The misadventures of the Fletcher family take place on Rock Island, on a quaint island off of the coast of New England. For five weeks every summer, the Fletchers stay in their family owned cottage, the same one in which Papa and his sister spent summers with their parents. The small space is now occupied by Papa, Dad, and their four adopted boys, Sam, Eli, Jax, and Frog.
We met and fell in love with the Fletcher family in Levy’s first book, which introduced us to a modern family of two dads and their adopted boys. The focus of the fiction book was that of family and the ups and downs of school age kids as they navigated their way through homework, friendships, and new interests. Both books are told in third person narrative by the Fletcher boys. To highlight the qualities that make the Fletchers just like any other American family, Levy purposefully chose not include the tension that can accompany gay parenting, adoption, and a multiracial family in her first book.
As an ally, she knows the struggles diverse individuals and families face and never wanted to discount those struggles, but she also wanted to write a book that normalizes gay and lesbian parents, because they are normal. In her second book, she takes on some of the judgement and discrimination people place on others, specifically that which is placed on 11 year old Jax, who is the only African American boy in the family and one of the few on Rock Island.
The biggest adventure in The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is that of the Fletchers trying to find out what is going to happen to the island’s beloved light house, which is under contract to be purchased by an outsider. While eavesdropping on an adult conversation, Jax and his new friend Alex, a gender-nonconforming Hispanic girl, are mistaken as two “punks”. The adults assume Jax and Alex are trouble making boys, “kids masquerading as innocents, sent out to pickpocket or commit other petty crimes.” Without letting Jax and Alex explain themselves as just being nosy and concerned for the future of the light house, the adults call the cops to punish them for a crime they did not do or intend to do.
In the ugliness of our country right now, with politics causing fear and ignorance to prevail, with terror attacks causing blame to be pointed at the innocent, and with black men being killed without justification, Levy did not shy away from the hard topics this time.
“I was drafting this book in the summer of 2014, happily pulling together favorite parts of all my New England summer memories. And then Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot in Ferguson, Missouri. And then people began protesting. And protesting some more. And I watched the news, unable to turn off Twitter, where the protests were streaming in real time. And my writing ground to a halt. It’s not that I was unaware of the injustice in this country, but I was now more aware. I couldn’t unsee what I was seeing. I felt that I could not keep writing this book without acknowledging that Jax’s reality was different than his brothers’.”
Levy gracefully keeps the book fun and age appropriate while tackling the big feelings Jax, his fathers, and his brothers feel about the injustice Jax now knows he will always face, at unpredicted, yet guaranteed times in the future. Levy writes: “It’s not like their family didn’t get singled out or noticed. Jax was used to people asking why he had two dads, or why he didn’t look like them. But he wasn’t used to being looked at like a criminal. And he hated it.” Papa takes in Jax’s concerns without pretending to fully know what Jax must be feeling. But he also manages to make Jax understand he is more than his skin color without sugarcoating the new revelation that comes with it.
The book never feels heavy-handed, rather a reminder that life is not a fairy tale or even always fair. That doesn’t mean goodness and kindness cannot win. Levy makes sure the Fletchers remain the same, optimistic family as when they came to the island, but they definitely leave changed by the summer’s events. Change is not bad, though; change is what the world needs. We need to better understanding of our differences; hopefully that change will come soon.
Levy is done telling the Fletcher family’s story for now, but will release her third book in 2017 called This Would Make a Good Story Someday. The story is told from the point of view of Sara, a 12 year old girl and peripheral character from the Family Fletcher books. The fiction book chronicles the tales of a month long cross-country train ride she takes with her two moms, her siblings, and her older sister’s boyfriend.
Levy: “My honest hope is that it is ever-easier for [kids of gay parents] to feel like they can mention their families in shorthand, the way other more typical family conventions do, and not feel self-conscious—any more than we all feel self-conscious because, let’s be real here, everyone’s family is totally embarrassing at least some of the time.”
Write on, Dana.