Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No, My Name is....

Also Known as Rowan Pohi
What kind of meaning is in a name? Does your name define you or do you make the name? In Also Known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher, Bobby Steele would do anything for a new name. And to be honest, he would do anything for a new life while he was at it.

Bobby Steele shares his name with his father, the same man who went to jail for two months for burning his wife's arm with an iron during an argument. Now Bobby's mother has abandoned them, his father barely speaks to him, and his little brother thinks he is an Indian. Life sucks for Bobby Steele... until he and his friends decide to apply to the local upscale private school, Whitestone Academy, with a fake name. The fill out the application as a joke, and even make up a fake recommendation to send off for the recently fabricated student, Rowan Pohi (IHOP spelled backwards), but none of them thought Rowan would be accepted. When he is, Bobby's friends are ready to abandon the joke, but Bobby can't stop thinking about Rowan.

On a whim, Bobby attends Whitestone's new student orientation. There he meets a few people and manages to fend off the admissions office who wants his transcript from Rowan's old school. He even applies for a scholarship, since the financial aid office wants to know where Rowan's tuition check is. As Bobby/Rowan starts school, he struggles a bit with the new caliber of students he attends with- kids with trust funds and summer homes. But quickly he makes a few friends... and a few enemies. Unfortunately, his enemies know his secret, that his name is really Bobby Steele. Can he pull off living as Rowan, or will they rat him out and ruin the first real chance he has ever had for something good in his life?

I often have a hard time finding good middle reader books that aren't too childish. I want them to be well written, a lower reading level, but not condescending to the readers, who may be much older than their reading level would let on. This isn't an easy request to come by. This book fits the bill quite well, though. It has an interesting premise and isn't overly complicated, but it is something kids of a wide variety of ages could relate to. The scenes where Bobby recalls what happened between his parents are pretty intense, but delicately handled.

I really liked Bobby's character. He was likable, but still troubled by his mother's abandonment and blamed his father for her leaving. His father is clearly wracked with guilt, and almost doesn't know how to relate to the son he traumatized. The little brother, though, is the one who seems the most lost. He latched on to the idea that he was Native American as something to obsess about and compensate for his loss. My heart broke for this little boy. Bobby's experiences in the school are interesting, especially because he doesn't pretend to be rich or hide his scholarship- he just hides that he is Bobby Steele, Jr. Son of the man whose face was on the front page of the paper for burning his wife with an iron. This story is short (200 pgs) and simple at first glance, but there is a lot of meat to it. Don't let its size and reading level fool you- this is a book with some depth that will grab readers of any age. I would suggest it for grades 5-12 depending on the strength of your reader.

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