First Boy

First Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.  Henry Holt and Company, 2005.  224 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 10-14.

Cooper Jewett’s grandfather and only guardian just died, leaving him to run a dairy farm in New Hampshire by himself.  Cooper’s parents died in a car accident when he was a baby, at least that’s what he’s been told. After his grandfather’s death, Mrs. Perley helps out by cooking for Cooper and sleeping downstairs instead of going home to her own house at night. Mr. Searle, another dairy farmer, helps out with the chores around the farm. Cooper does the best he can to keep up with his schoolwork and with his position on the cross-country team. But black sedans are following him, and soon he finds himself in the middle of a fight between President of the United States, who’s running for reelection, and Senator Wickham, the challenger.

Political dirty tricks are the basis of the book.  Cooper is the tool, and he spends most of his time trying to keep himself from being used.

Senator Wickham is the bad guy here, and he’s very bad, and very one-dimensional.  The President and the people working for her are slightly more three dimensional than the people working for Senator Wickham.

Mr. Searle and Mrs.Perley are both good guys, and they’re very good, in spite of their gruff New England top layer. The Methodist minister and his very large family, including Cooper’s friend Peter, are also very good.

Senator Wickham tries one destructive act after another to try to get Cooper to cooperate with him. While the acts move the story along, they seem contrived.

Cooper is the only multidimensional character. He’s dealing with the loss of his grandparents, the fear of losing his farm, the work involved in maintaining the farm and going to school.  Mr. Searle and Mrs. Perley love him, and this gives their characters a bit more multidimensionality.

The descriptions of the farming lifestyle and Cooper’s Farm in particular makes me want to live on a dairy farm in New Hampshire.  I can almost feel the warmth coming from the cows as Cooper leans into them while milking them on a cold morning.

Over all, this is not a masterpiece, but a fun romp into political dirty tricks.


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