CLEM’S CHANCES tells the story of Clem Fontayne, a fourteen-year-old boy in 1860, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Sonia Levitin is an expert at writing historical novels for young people, so it is no surprise that she is able to convey so much information in just under 200 pages.
Clem's father left the family a year earlier to seek his fortune in the California gold fields, and hasn't been heard from since. Clem is then left entirely alone when his mother and baby sister die during a fever epidemic. After his mother’s death, Clem tries to carry on, until neighbors, the Warrens, find him starving and struggling to stay alive. They take Clem in as a "good deed", but life with them is no picnic. They treat Clem little better than a slave.
But life with the Warrens doesn't last long. After being accused of a crime he didn't commit, Clem is forced to leave the Warrens home. Confused as to where to go or what to do, Clem decides to try and find his father (if his father is even still alive). He heads West --- penniless and desperate --- and finally finds work in a livery stable, earning room and board at a local saloon. But like the Warrens, Clem gets caught up in trouble and he must escape the area to save his life.
Once again penniless and wandering, Clem applies for a job riding for the Pony Express. Instead of being hired to ride, he is offered a job as an animal tender driving the animals to a new station. Working with the Pony Express is just the start of Clem’s practical education as he travels across the country to California. Along the way, he learns about politics, and meets many different types of people including an African American cowboy and a group of Mormons traveling to Salt Lake City. Eventually, he makes it to California --- but after all that's happened, what are Clem's Chances of ever seeing his father?
CLEM'S CHANCES is packed with information. However good Levitin is at history, though, she is best when she is describing the interpersonal relations between Clem and the people he meets. CLEM'S CHANCES is a moving and engrossing story of a boy’s search for himself.
Reviewed by Debbie Ann Weiner on September 1, 2001
- Publication Date: September 1, 2001
- Hardcover: 199 pages
- Publisher: Orchard Books (NY)
- ISBN-10: 0439293146
- ISBN-13: 9780439293143