In a sequel to Portofino (1992), Schaeffer offers an uneven, if sweet-natured, comic tale of a boy's struggle for independence from his often-loony missionary family. Fifteen-year-old Calvin Becker is burdened with two squabbling, goody-goody older sisters, a volatile, quixotic father who's often stricken by dark periods the family calls ``Moods,'' and an emotionally overwrought mother who instructs Calvin to pray for wet dreams so he won't be tempted to masturbate. The Beckers run L'Arche, a Calvinist Presbyterian mission in Switzerland; when the supply of converts runs low, they turn their attention to ``saving'' handicapped children from the home next door. Calvin's only friend, through all this, is Jean-Pierre, a French boy with cerebral palsy who shares with home-schooled Calvin a near-inability to read; Calvin's only true comfort, it seems, is spinning elaborate fantasies about Jennifer, the beautiful English girl he sees for two weeks every year when the Beckers vacation in Italy. Calvin's mom is always crowing about having rescued his father from a coarse, heathen, working-class background, so it's little surprise that when Dad's mean-tempered mother, who spews bad language, racial slurs, and blasphemy in abundance, breaks her hip and comes to stay, the family is thrown into an uproar. Unhinged by stress, Calvin's father manages to escalate an obscure theological dispute with a neighbor into a full-scale feud that almost gets the Beckers expelled from Switzerland. Just when the fracas has settled down, Grandma contracts pneumonia, and when Calvin, who aspires to be a doctor, learns that his parents don't plan to treat her, he smuggles veterinary penicillin to her and saves her life—creating a strange bond between the two and providing the catalyst for Calvin's realization that it's finally time for him to escape for keeps. Good material, though with jokes that are often overplayed and a scattered, episodic structure that slows the story's drive.
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