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Book Review

Introduction The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Homer P. Figg and his 17-year-old brother, Harold, live with mean Uncle Squinton Leach in Maine. When Harold rouses Squint’s anger, the uncle lies to the officials that Harold is old enough to enlist in the Civil War. Harold is sent to war, and Homer decides he must escape from Squint and find his brother.

Harold hasn’t gotten far into the woods when he’s captured by Stink and Smelt, two bounty hunters in search of runaway slaves. They’ve also seized a free black man named Samuel Reed, who serves as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. The bounty hunters believe a group of missing slaves is staying on the property of a gemstone miner named Jebediah Brewster.

When they discover how well Homer lies, they decide to use him to find the slaves. Homer is already weak from hunger when they send him to Brewster’s house. They order him to give his name and say that he’s looking for his brother. They say the best lies always start with the truth. He must bring them back information about the slaves or they will kill Reed.

Brewster is a kind Quaker man who feeds and cares for Homer. Homer sees the man’s noble character and realizes he can’t lie to him. Brewster shows Homer the slaves he’s hiding on his land. When Homer sees their predicament, he realizes he can no longer stand by and do nothing for the people of color in his land. He tells Brewster that Smelt and Stink are lurking about. Brewster says he already knew, and he and Homer make a plan.

Homer returns to Smelt and Stink and says he will lead them to the slaves. On the way to their hiding place, Reed (whom Brewster has found and released) knocks the men senseless. The humiliated bounty hunters retreat, and Reed is able to lead the group of slaves to their next stop on the Underground Railroad. Brewster urges Homer to stay with him, but Homer knows he has to keep searching for Harold.

Brewster says he will help Homer by getting him on a train to New York. This will take him closer to regiments from Maine. Brewster hires a young Methodist parson named Mr. Willow to serve as Homer’s guardian for the trip. Early on in their voyage, the parson meets the Nibblys, a brother and sister who claim to come from a wealthy family. They end up on the same ship as Homer and Willow, and Willow falls madly in love with Miss Nibbly.

Homer can’t convince Willow he’s being conned, so Homer decides it’s best for him to part company. He winds up in a cage full of pigs in the ship’s hull. The pigs’ owner, a traveling showman named Professor Fleabottom, invites Homer to join his act as the Pig Boy. He promises to help Homer find his brother.

Homer travels with Fleabottom and his assistants as they stealthily take their act to the troops in the forests late at night. After each sideshow, Fleabottom sells his Miracle Elixer. Homer is disappointed to learn it is a mixture of medicine and whiskey, but Fleabottom says it gives the soldiers some comfort before they die.

Homer enjoys playing the role of Pig Boy and likes his sideshow friends. As they’re traveling one day, they come upon a man struggling to keep his hot air balloon from dragging him away. They help him get it under control, just before an Army captain and his troops arrive on the scene.

The captain accuses Fleabottom of spying. Fleabottom tries to object, saying he’s been asking questions on Homer’s behalf to help him find his brother. The troops drag Fleabottom’s brother and partner in crime to their evidence. The showman can no longer deny his treason. The captain orders that everyone be arrested, but Homer escapes in the hot air balloon.

He sails for a long time until the balloon gets a hole and starts dropping. Homer sees he’s being swept over a battlefield where heavy fighting is taking place. Confederate soldiers capture him and lock him up with a newspaper man named Griswold. Homer shares his story with the man until wounded begin to arrive.

Suddenly, Homer sees the true nature of battle, as injured, screaming men appear. He hears surgeons sawing off limbs and yanking out bullets. The battle intensifies, and all able-bodied soldiers are called to the field. Unguarded, Harold takes a horse and rides hard to find his brother in the skirmish. He passes horrific scenes of battle until he reaches the Union side.

There he runs into Willow, his former traveling companion. The embarrassed Willow admits he was duped and robbed by the Nibblys. He helps Homer find Harold, who has been locked in a prison wagon for trying to desert. Harold admits that a part of him wanted to go to war so he could get away from Squint and his responsibility of caring for Homer.

As the fighting intensifies, even willing prisoners are released to go into battle. Harold fights bravely, and Homer runs ammunition to the men on the field. Harold’s sergeant is carrying the flag when the sergeant is shot. Harold runs to take the flag from him to keep it from hitting the ground.

Homer shoots at Harold’s foot to cause a distraction, hoping to save his brother from rebel fire. The bullet sends a chunk of rock into Harold’s leg. As he falls, and Homer runs to him, they see that the Union army has forced their enemies to surrender.

Harold loses his leg, but he does not blame Homer. Brewster becomes Homer and Harold’s guardian, and the man convinces Homer to write down his adventures. Homer ends his tale by urging everyone who is haunted by the past to keep marching.

Christian Beliefs

Jebediah Brewster is a Quaker, and Homer says he looks like God himself. Brewster tells Homer why God put people on earth and how He tests them. Brewster says God provided him with wisdom to help him in his business.

Homer fears lying to Brewster would be like lying to God, since a person couldn’t fool either one. When Brewster won’t use guns against Smelt and Stink, Homer says he’s crazy. He thinks that’s like God being crazy, and he thinks about some of the difficult things God has allowed to happen.

Brewster sends a Methodist clergyman with Homer to New York to act as the boy’s guardian.

During Fleabottom’s sideshow, he asks soldiers to consider whether a being such as Pig Boy has a soul. Will he meet God when he dies or return to dust? The soldiers get quiet, pondering this question. Homer recalls being concerned about the small box in which his mother was buried. Harold says their mother reminded him before her death that he shouldn’t grieve over her body. She said it was only a remnant and that her soul had flown off to heaven to be with God.

After being accused of treason, Fleabottom says he will swear on a Bible that he’s innocent. The Army captain refuses to allow it, saying people like Fleabottom will swear such oaths because they believe God is on their side and will protect them in their lies. Homer prays several prayers to God for his brother’s safety.

Other Belief Systems

Homer wonders if Brewster has the power to read minds, since the man seems to be able to see through Homer’s lies. Harold urges Homer to be truthful, telling him an angel falls from heaven every time someone lies.

Authority Roles

Homer’s father was killed by a falling tree before Homer was born. His mother died of the fever when he was 4. Mother’s late sister’s husband, the mean and abusive Squinton Leach, became Henry and Harold’s guardian.


Reed knocks Stink and Smelt senseless. While Homer is near the front of the battle at Gettysburg, he sees many bloody sights. He hears men screaming as saws cut through bone to remove their limbs. Homer shoots at Harold’s foot to cause a distraction, hoping to save his brother from rebel fire. The bullet sends a chunk of rock into Harold’s leg.


Miss Nibbly kisses Mr. Willow. Since he kissed her back, he feels he should marry her as a matter of honor.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Homer prides himself on his ability to lie convincingly. He tells many falsehoods in his effort to find his brother. Harold urges him to be truthful, telling him an angel falls from heaven every time someone lies. Smelt says the best lies start with the truth.

Alcohol: Several characters drink. Fleabottom centers his show around his Miracle Elixir, which is actually just whiskey. Homer recalls seeing men at a fair getting stupid with whiskey. He doesn’t think its right to get soldiers drunk. Fleabottom tells Homer it gives a little comfort to the men who will likely die soon.

Race: The novel takes place during the Civil War, so many people still believe slavery is right. Smelt and Stink capture Reed. They call him a “darky” and say it’s crazy that black men can think they’re like white men. Brewster corrects Homer for using the word “darky” and says the Lord doesn’t care about the color of a man’s skin. He contends that no man has the right to kill another.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

7 to 12


Rodman Philbrick






Record Label



The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published



Newbury Honor Book, 2010, Publishers Weekly Starred Review, 2008 and others


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