The Man Who Was Poe by Avi

The Man Who Was Poe by AviI recently took a detour from my 2017 Reading Challenges to read The Man Who Was Poe by Avi. My daughter’s seventh grade class is reading it together and my wife and I wanted to share the experience with her. Plus, I find Poe a fascinating writer and I was looking forward to seeing him as a character in historical fiction.

The story takes place in Providence, Rhode Island in 1848, when Edgar Allen Poe is reluctantly drawn into helping a young boy find his missing mother, sister, and aunt. The mystery itself is intriguing and well told, especially for middle school readers–the target audience for the novel. It has its cliffhanger moments and even a twist or two, but it is definitely not up to par with the recent Agatha Christie books I’ve read this  year.

Still, Avi creates a suitably gloomy, gritty, and dark atmosphere. From the boy’s squalid hotel room to the nighttime graveyard scenes, the setting is appropriate to a book starring Poe.

My main problem with the book is its portrayal of Poe as an alcoholic writer so obsessed with his story that he cared nothing for helping the boy Edmunds find his family except that it gave him material for a good story. I’m not sure why Avi even chose to make Poe the detective in this mystery story. He could just as well have created a fictional character to try and help Edmund. Poe’s literary background makes almost no appearance in the novel, wasting a prime chance to introduce young readers to classics like “The Raven,” “The Tell-tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

If Avi wrote The Man Who Was Poe to get readers interested interested in Edgar Allen Poe, I’m not sure he didn’t do the opposite and drive them away. Poe is such an unsympathetic character in the book, that if this was my first exposure to him as a seventh grader,  then I don’t know that I would want to read anything by him. I will be very interested to hear what my daughter thinks of Poe after she finishes the book with her class.

Though the book was a bit of a disappointment, it was still a good opportunity to share a literary experience with my wife and daughter.

The Man Who Was Poe by Avi
First edition New York: Orchard Books, 1989
Kindle edition Scholastic, 2013
Print length: 212 pages

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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