They're back! The four boys, two dads and assorted pets who romped through Dana Alison Levy's award-winning middle-grade novel The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher return in The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island.
This time, the multiracial, multiethnic family is off on their yearly vacation to Rock Island, a fictional New England locale. They discover, however, that the lighthouse they loved to explore is being targeted by a real estate developer who wants to turn it into condominiums. They try to prevent this while also dealing with two new girls next door, attempts to teach their cats to swim, and a madcap Shakespeare production.
Levy told me in an email interview that Rock Island is a blend of many New England islands, but mostly Nantucket, where she spent over 20 summers starting as a child. "It's not a perfect place, of course," she said. "No place is, really. But the memories of those summers are some of the most evocative and special, because it really is a place where time stands still."
The Fletchers, however, rarely stand still. Levy calls this second volume "the Scooby Doo book"full of mystery and action. And there is an overarching theme of change as the boys realize their regular vacation spot might never be the same, and as they begin to sense changes in themselves as they grow older.
As with her first book, Levy said, "My inspiration came from the beloved slice-of-life stories I grew up with, from Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet to Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. But I wanted the Fletchers to be more reflective of our 21st-century worldto look like the families in my neighborhood, in my children's classrooms, and in our communities.
She seems to have succeeded. "I've had young kids come up to me at school visits and announce proudly, 'I have two dads ( or two moms )! I'm just like the Fletchers!'" she related. "And just recently a family of two dads and an adopted son came to my book signing and bought a new copy of the original Fletcher book, as well as the new one. They said that their son had read the first copy until it fell apart, and that they thought he liked it so much because it confirmed his place in the world. That was pretty awesome."
Neither of her books, however, are "about" being in a gay-headed family per se. Nevertheless, she is clearly tuned to the currents of social justice. In one scene, Jax, the Black son, and Alex, a Hispanic friend, are racially profiled and accused of pickpocketing. Later, Jax discusses this with his Papa, who is White.
To her credit, Levy doesn't make Papa have all the answers. He is sympathetic, but suggests Jax also speak with his Aunt Lucy's boyfriend, who is Black, and "probably has some thoughts about being a Black man in the world."
This reflects Levy's own recognition of her location and limits as a White author. "I didn't want to write an issue book, partly because I wanted to write an everyday family tale, and partly because, quite honestly, I am not the right person to tell that story," she explained. "The #OwnVoices movement makes a great point that diversity of characters isn't enoughwe also need diversity of authors, and to let people tell their own stories. My goal was to write about the parts of being a family that we all share."
At the same time, despite "idyllic summer moments," she said, "my summers were spent somewhere homogenous and largely white, and it's unfair and unrealistic to put my desire for a happy summer story above the realities of being of a different race in such an environment. Jax and Alex's experience was, unfortunately, very much an everyday story, though not in the way we'd like."
In order to make Jax's experience feel authentic, she said, "I talked to parents, and also read articles and blogs and watched videos." But she also stayed true to the helplessness that many of us feel when confronted with a systemic ill like racism, saying, "Ultimately I channeled my own challenge as a parent: What can I do when I can't fix something that's hurting them? When I can't help? All any parent can do, really, is listen, and love, and show that they care."
Many families will appreciate this thoughtful subplotas well as the much broader whole that is funny, exciting, and full of the random everyday adventures in a family with four kids.
Levy's next book, This Would Make a Good Story Someday, will be a spin-off about a two-mom family introduced in the first Fletcher book. She shared, "It's told from twelve-year-old Sara's point of view, through journal entries, postcards, and other travel documents" as the family travels cross-country by train.
As for more Fletcher books, she said, "I have some ideas for where I'd like Sam, Jax, Eli and Frog to go next, but we'll see."
Let's hope we're lucky enough to get more tales of this fun, imperfect, adventurous, and loving family. And while I have no contacts in Hollywood whatsoever, I think real-life gay dads and actors Neil Patrick Harris and Dan Bucatinsky ( though not a real couple ) would be perfect to play the dads in a television or movie adaptation. We can only dream. For the moment, however, read this delightful book with your own family and let the Fletchers bring a little Rock Island sunshine into your home.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian ( mombian.com ), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.