By Amber Leventry, The Next Family
Two dads, four adopted sons, and many adventures – and misadventures – of one family are waiting for you in Dana Alison Levy’s first novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, it would be a shame if you didn’t take the time to get to know this family. While it is a book intended to be read by middle schoolers, I loved Levy’s take on the modern family. Her writing style has a humor and gentleness about it that made me fall in love with the Fletcher family and care more about each member than I thought I would. Yes, the characters are fictional, but they could be any family, mine or yours.
“The line of four boys separated with the force of bowling pins being knocked in every which way. The first day of school meant something different to each of them, but whether they were dreading it or dying to get back, no one wanted to stay on the splintery steps any longer….And according to Fletcher Family Rules, the photo had to be taken. So it was.”
And so begins the story of the Family Fletcher.
Told through third person point of view by each son, we learn about Sam, 12, Eli, 10, Jax, 10, and Frog, 6. New schools, tween angst, family holidays, a grumpy next door neighbor, and the growing pains that go with them all are sprinkled throughout the book like mosaic tiles to create a beautiful picture of life in a boisterous, happy family. We learn a bit about stay at home Papa and teacher Dad, but the focus is on the worlds of the four boys who have two fathers.
I had the chance to talk to Levy about her book and wanted to know why, other than the obvious reason of why not, she chose to write about a family with same-sex parents. She said this: “Why should the default setting of ‘family’ stay the same, when all around us families come in myriad different configurations? I wanted to write a book like the ones I adored growing up: books like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, or Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family. But at the same time, I wanted to create a story that more accurately reflects the diversity of the world we live in.”
Levy achieved her goal, but since it was told through the perspectives of the children, and I was reading through the eyes of a cautiously optimistic queer mama, I anticipated conflict or complicated confrontations for the Fletcher family. But other than a few mentions, easily passed off by grounded and confident kids, the book does not carry a line of tension because of their dads’ sexuality or the fact they are adopted kids in a multiracial family. I asked Levy if she was tempted to include negative encounters for the Fletchers.
“That was a hard line to figure out…on one hand, I really wanted this book to be about the everyday elements of family life that any kid could relate to, but on the other, it is unrealistic to think there were no moments of tension or difference relating to their family. I would hate for parents or kids to feel that I want to erase those realities. I worried about this a lot, to be honest. I know our world can be difficult, and kids growing up like the Fletchers will face challenges that other kids won’t. But ultimately I wanted to write a book with a wide-angle lens, a book that looks at the whole family and their everyday ‘misadventures’ rather than the specific elements that make them unique.”
She went on to say this: “It is my hope that among the four boys and two parents all different kids can find themselves. Whether they’re struggling with a new school, or working through challenges with a friend, or trying something new and scary, they will relate to elements of the story. At its heart this is a book about a very silly, very loving family facing everyday situations.”
The heart of the book is the Fletcher family, and the body in which they pump life is our slowly changing and evolving world which values LGBTQ families and their children. We have always been a part of everyday family life, but we are finally being seen, heard, and celebrated in books, movies, and pop culture. It feels wonderful and it is confirmation of what I and so many gay and lesbian parents have always said: Gay parenting is just parenting, and our kids are going to be fine.
But what about the Fletchers? I’m sure they will be fine, too, but I want to know what will become of them. What will happen at the next holiday get together, what disaster will happen on vacation, will Sam and Emily become a thing? Thankfully, Levy predicted my need to know.
In her second book, the stories of the Fletcher boys and their dads will take place at their favorite summer spot, but unexpected changes will fuel new misadventures. The Family Fletcher Takes Block Island, will be available May 2016.
Until then, you have plenty of time to get to know the fictional Fletcher family, a mirror image of proud and loving LGBTQ families living everyday lives in extraordinary ways.