Tom Slade at Black Lake

September 21, 2017

I think you can see Percy Keese Fitzhugh growing as a writer over the course of the Tom Slade series, especially in the wartime sequence of books. Tom Slade at Black Lake comes after the war, but it’s more part of that sequence than the next one, not just because it deals with the consequences of the war, but because Tom is still kind of there in his head.

It seems weird to have a juvenile series where the hero goes off to war and then comes home and picks up where he left off. In another author’s hands it probably would be. But Fitzhugh knows exactly how much he’s put Tom through, and that things won’t be the same even if he does plunk Tom down in exactly the same place, and he takes Tom’s mental health as seriously as the lingering weakness in his wounded arm. 

Tom’s not as badly off as he was at the end of the last book, but he’s still suffering from shell shock. He’s scared of noise and traffic, has a hard time interacting with people, and keeps forgetting things. Also he’s lonely. His boss, Mr. Burton, and his coworker, Margaret Ellison, see what he’s going through and do their best to help by letting him take it easy and trying to build up his confidence. What helps most, though, is going to boy scout meetings and listening to his friends joke around and not feeling any pressure to participate.

It would be good if he could spend more than one evening a week with them, but Tom has always been shy, and he’s even more sensitive now, and he doesn’t think he gets to hang out with them as a matter of course like he did when he was younger. And the scouts just see him withdrawing, and don’t understand why, and feel hurt. So they’re quick to believe, when Tom accidentally gives their Temple Camp cabins to another troop, that he did it on purpose and lied about it.

I don’t know if any other boys’ series character has characterization as consistent as Tom Slade’s. He can’t take the cabins away from the other troop, and there are no cabins left for the Bridgeboro troop. Everyone else (reasonably) assumes that nothing can be done and the Bridgeboro scouts will have to camp in tents. And Tom — honestly, I have no idea how to convey how much I love Tom Slade. Tom decides the only way to solve this problem is for him to go up to Temple Camp early and single-handedly build three new cabins.

I don’t have anything else to say about this book, except that it’s a good one and it made me feel things.

One comment

  1. They do just keep getting better! (at least in terms of craft, I would say) And then I hit the public-domain boundary line. Sigh.

    Are the Roy Blakely ones worth reading?

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