Literary Criticism and Significance
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, published in January 2009, was written by the award-winning author Rodman Philbrick, who also wrote the highly popular adolescent novel Freak the Mighty. Critics praised the story as a “rip-roaring adventure” that was filled with a “comic tone” that will be “embraced and heralded” by many different audiences.
Of particular praise in the novel is Philbrick’s creation of a narrator filled with personality, wit, humor, and great insight into human nature. Critics praise the tone of the novel, as seen through Homer, for “descriptions so crisp they practically crunch.” Through Homer, Philbrick was able to present a wide array of humorous and slightly disreputable characters with a colorful commentary that brings a comic tone to often serious subject matter. Another technique featured by Philbrick is the naming of characters to add humor and insight into their personalities. Characters are given names such as Fleabottom, Squint, Stink, and Smelt: these “vividly voiced” characters are funny and easily identified as antagonists.
Because this novel features an opinionated narrator with a talent for lying who also presents rather satirical commentary on society as he travels across the country, many find it similar to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, however, is more accessible and easier to understand than Mark Twain’s famous classic, so it would be an effective predecessor for teachers and parents who want to introduce their readers to a humorous style similar to that of Twain as well as local colloquialisms and character exaggerations.
Through the comic voice of the book, Philbrick is able to make American history fun and present some very complex facts about the interactions that occur in wartime in understandable and entertaining ways. In the genre of historical American fiction for adolescents, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg offers youth a light-hearted alternative to reading and learning about history, one that is easy to like and easy to read. Despite its comic approach to history, however, Philbrick is not disrespectful. Homer reacts with appropriate gravity toward the injustices enacted against slaves and the horrific scenes that accompany brutal war on a battlefield. Critics appreciated that the seriousness regarding these issues did “ring clearly above the din of playful exaggerations” that are offered by the descriptive and humorous narrator. The history that is presented, in combination with the entertaining style, is sure to make this book a favorite for teachers and readers alike.