"I’m Not James" is the story of George, whose twin brother, James, is a troublemaker. Though the boys are not identical, they look enough alike that George is often mistaken for his brother and punished for James’s bad deeds. After one such incident, George considers ways to get back at his brother, but in the heat of the moment, finds himself torn about whether to follow through with his plans.
I chose to read this story because I was curious about David A. Adler’s writing style outside the formulas of his Cam Jansen and Bones series. I think both series are well-written, but it’s hard to know an author’s true talents when all of his books are so similar to one another. As it turns out, I really liked this deviation from the mystery genre and from formulaic series fiction, and I learned that Adler has a talent for character development as well as delivering a positive moral message without coming across as cheesy or heavy-handed.
George is a good, well-behaved kid, and his sense of indignation at being wrongly accused of his brother’s crimes is so heavily present on the pages of this story. I really felt his frustration and reading the story caused me to look back on moments where I felt trapped by the unfairness of an adult who had misjudged me or my actions. I think most kids who have siblings, or even just classmates, know that feeling, and Adler uses it very effectively to build sympathy for his protagonist. This sympathy is important to the overall story because of George’s desire for revenge. The reader needs to understand why he wants to finally get his brother in major trouble. The reader also needs a close connection with George to understand why, in the end, he decides not to stoop to James’s level. It’s hard to sell kids on a character-building story, but I think Adler is successful because George seems like a real kid, and the reader sees him as a kindred spirit.
This story is entertaining, and I think kids who are already Adler fans would be tickled to discover it in this anthology. Teachers and parents might use it to demonstrate a lesson on honesty and authenticity even in the face of great unfairness. I wish I had known of this story when I was teaching CCD, as I think it would have made a great jumping off point for a discussion with my fifth graders. Kids dealing with sibling rivalry, or with an opportunistic friend can also use this story to help navigate the situation and ultimately feel secure in doing the right thing, whether they get credit for it or not.
I borrowed I Fooled You! from my local public library.