March 04, 2019

Dodger Boy

Written by Sarah Ellis
Groundwood Books
176 pp.
Ages 10-14
September 2018

Most people would not think of the 1970s as the setting for historical fiction but, at 40 plus years ago, it definitely qualifies, and it was a time rampant with fodder for fiction writers. From Apollo 13 to the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, the pioneering of in vitro fertilization and, of course, Watergate, the 1970s rolled through on a plethora of highs and lows. But for many it will be the decade during which the Vietnam War finally ended. Before that end, however, lives were being shaped by either going to war, protesting it or dodging the call to military service, and those who met those individuals were likewise forever changed. Such are the circumstances of Sarah Ellis's newest middle grade novel, Dodger Boy.

Vancouverites Charlotte Quinlan and her best friend Dawn Novak, both 13, attend a hippie event called an Easter Human Be-In. There, amidst the music and dance and fun, they meet Tom Ed, a draft dodger from Texas, who is invited to stay with Charlotte's Quaker family while he tries sort out his plans. When Tom Ed gets a job as a car jockey and has to drive a car up to 100 Mile House, Charlotte and Dawn accompany him. But while, Charlotte appreciates how Tom Ed talks to her like an adult, Dawn sees the trip as something else.

Meanwhile there is a war against the girls' teacher, who is affectionately known as O.O., from a parent seeking her firing for including the book The Catcher in the Rye in her classroom library.  Even within the context of a greater conflict, Charlotte is compelled to protest the censorship and the attack on her teacher, learning about civil disobedience and taking herself out from Dawn's shadow to find her own voice.

Dodger Boy piggybacks on an era of free love and peace but is embedded in a time of conflict. Sarah Ellis may use the Vietnam War as the big conflict, one between nations, but by including those involved with censorship  and between friends, she makes it personal. There may be discussions about pacifism and Nixon and the war but there is also much learning about differences and similarities between Americans and Canadians, about growing up and being an Unteen or a teenager, and about having a friend and being one.  It's a comprehensive look at the 1970s while still being selective about where Charlotte's focus is. Sarah Ellis, in her crafty subtlety, takes a massive picture of life in the 1970s and angles it at the individual, acknowledging what is important to Charlotte: her family, her friends, her school and the freedom to be her best human "be-in."


  1. I absolutely loved this book! It was written with a gentle hand, never preachy or didactic, yet it covers so many themes.

    1. You're absolutely right, Shelley. Sarah Ellis makes sure that it's authentic without being preachy about anything: the time, the opinions, the issues.