Tuesday, November 08, 2011

ID Do Over: Also Known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

It was mid-August and hot. One good thing about IHOP: they really cranked up the AC.

That's when it happened. Big Poobs, who to my recollection had never had one truly original idea in his life, spoke up.

"We should do it. We should try to get accepted at Whitestone Prep."

Marcus snorted. "Last time you saw an A or B was in your alphabet soup, genius boy."

Big Poobs shook his head. "Not us. Somebody else. We could, like, invent somebody. A real smart kid."

The summer doldrums diversion appeals to Big Poobs and Marcus, and Bobby Steele goes along with his bored buddies. He comes up with a different sounding name, Rowan Ian Pohi (IHOP spelled backwards). They give recent transfer Rowan a remote hometown and high school in Pinon, Arizona, and Marcus even offers to write a recommendation from a fictitious football coach for Rowan. And the usually unimaginative Poobs and Marcus really get into creating a personality for their creation.

"Maybe the dude doesn't say much, but he's smart as hell."

Big Poobs smiled. "Yeah."

Most fifteen-year olds could go for an enhanced makeover, and Bobby Steele needs one way more than most. Poobs and Marcus are happy with their C averages and their scuzzy high school, content to work in their father's small businesses forever, but Bobby's life is currently down the tubes. His dad just got out of jail for felony abuse of his mother, and his heretofore loving mom has fled the family to find her own new identity, leaving him, his sad and lost little five-year old brother Cody, and his silent dad in a sort of uneasy limbo.

When the fictitious Rowan Pohi is inexplicably accepted to the prestigious Whitestone Prep, Bobby somehow can't resist the temptation to take the prank to the next level, to become Rowan Pohi. Bobby is a good student and figures he can talk the talk, at least for a day or two, and shows up for new student orientation. He soon finds himself with an ID card, a class schedule, and a really cute rich girl who thinks he "quite a babe." He finds that he loves the spiffy, upscale surroundings, the preppy uniform, and the engaged and supportive teachers, and even finds a sympathetic girl to help him catch up in his accelerated Spanish II class. He tries out for football, and it looks like with his speed he can make the team as a wide receiver. Except for the little matter of thousands of dollars of tuition, everything is cool.

But Bobby/Rowan's luck holds. An appointed advisor directs him to a grant-in-aid writing competition, and he surprises himself by winning a full tuition scholarship. It looks like Bobby Steele's transformation into Rowan Pohi is going to work. As days go by, Bobby feels that Rowan Pohi is who he really is and he is at last where he should be.

But then there is trouble in prep paradise. Bobby/Rowan is confronted by a kid who remembers who he really is, someone from back in the old days who knows all the sordid details of his past life, and who, failing in his blackmail attempt, takes what he knows to the administration. Bobby is busted, and he sees the good life as Rowan Pohi abruptly snatched from him. Alone, he thinks, he is called on the carpet, exposed as a fraud. And to make things worse, his father has been called and shows up, grimy mechanic's hands and ill-fitting sport coat, bad grammar and all, at the hearing. Rowan Ian Pohi, prescient initials, R.I.P., will now Rest In Peace for sure.

Ralph Fletcher's forthcoming Also Known as Rowan Pohi (Clarion, 2011) requires a bit of suspension of disbelief at its outset, but granted his unlikely premise, does an admirable job of fleshing out his character. The grimness of Bobby's real life makes his reach for the fantasy alter ego of the preppy Rowan Pohi quite believable. Fletcher doesn't stint on his minor characters either, making his failure of a father not merely the heavy, but a character who, like his son, is also trying to make a new identity for himself even in his ultimate support of his son's reaching for a better life.

This is an absorbing. accessible. and rewarding read for middle and high schoolers, one that is long on insight and somehow inspiring to an age group themselves engaged in becoming their future selves. Live long and prosper, Rowan Pohi!

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