CLEM’S CHANCES by Sonia Levitin


Age Range: 11 - 14
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In this episodic historical novel, Clem Fontayne’s chances of success seem slim when he leaves Missouri in 1860 to seek his father in California. As the story opens, 14-year-old Clem buries his mother and baby sister, then briefly struggles to survive on their deteriorating homestead. Nearly starving, he agrees to work for the exploitative Warren family. In the short time he stays with them, he becomes a close friend with the daughter, Molly. Determined to head West, Clem takes a job with the Pony Express, traveling with a company of rough bushwhackers to Nebraska, where he tends animals at a way station. Each leg of his trip, which ends in California, exposes Clem to injustices of the time. A black bushwhacker who is a former slave recounts his harsh history; Clem witnesses brutal treatment of Indians; and when he travels with Mormons, he comes to believe they suffer unfair bias, too. The effect is sometimes didactic, but otherwise Levitin (When Elephant Goes to a Party, p. 333, etc.) keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace, with enough danger to keep things lively. Action and historical context, however, overshadow character development. Clem, who narrates the story, is likable but not vividly drawn, and the many secondary characters are one-dimensional. While the end is predictable, those who like to read about the Westward Movement will enjoy the journey. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-439-29314-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2001


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