Before I read this book, I had never read a book that was set in Canada…in the 1970s…that was not even published yet. This book was the first. The book in question? Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis, and it was a serious page-turner. I read it twice! We think of the 1970s as a time of worldwide cultural change, but this book also illustrated how meeting just one new person can cause your life to take a different course.
The main characters are Charlotte and Dawn, best friends who have a pact; to be Unteens. This means that they try not to act like every other teenager; obsessed with boyfriends, gossipy, moody, dramatic. They just want to enjoy life and have fun together until they’re adults. Then one day, Charlotte and Dawn see a poster for a “human be-in”, a gathering of people to hang out, enjoy themselves, and listen to speakers and live music. Out of curiosity as to what happens there, they decide to go.
While undercover as hippies at the be-in, Charlotte and Dawn meet a draft dodger from Texas named Tom Ed. Tom Ed goes to stay at Charlotte’s house, and suddenly her life starts to get even messier. Not only is there a huge censorship drama involving Catcher in the Rye going on at school and the possibility of her favorite English teacher being fired, but now Dawn is acting alarmingly un-Unteen and not like herself. And on top of all that, a love triangle-or rather, a confusing love square-begins to form. How is Charlotte supposed to handle it all?
The importance of integrity and sticking to your ideals is a strong theme throughout the book. While Dawn gives up on being Unteen in order to fit in, Charlotte stays true to herself and what she believes in, even though that leads to fights and disputes between the two. Tom Ed stays true to himself too, escaping the draft by running away to Canada in refusal to fight for a war he doesn’t believe in. One of the ideas the book explores is if it is ever okay to break rules - even laws - to keep from having to do something that seems wrong. As Tom Ed says "There's no real good choice here. Only bad and worse. I chose bad."
The discussions between Charlotte and Tom Ed made me curious about a lot of things. Thanks to this book, I’m probably going to be doing a lot of researching about the Vietnam War. One thing I really liked about the book was that it talked about the ‘70s, draft dodging and the Vietnam War from a Canadian point of view. A lot of the time when we as Americans think about the Vietnam War, we think of it from an American standpoint. But since Canada was the main destination for draft evaders, it played a fundamental role in that part of history. I thought it was really interesting to learn about that from a different point of view.
I absolutely loved Dodger Boy. It made me laugh in places, gave me some new ideas about a lot of things, and taught me quite a bit. It made me think about how much the world has changed (in many ways for the better!) in a relatively short amount of time. Whoever you are-kid, adult, teen, Unteen-you are sure to adore this book.
Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis. Groundwood Books, 2018. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!
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