Marcum, Lance. The Cottonmouth Club. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374315627 336 pp. $
I devoured Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books books when I was growing up, and The Cottonmouth Club was a total throwback to the feeling of those books. Set in the early 1960’s not the 1920’s, The Cottonmouth Club has many of the same elements as Soup: historical fiction with a semi-autobiographical tone, best friends, boyish pranks, a carefree summer, overalls, burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, and farm life.
Having a dad in the Air Force means a lot of moving, and friendships can be few and far between, so Mitch, nearly twelve, is really looking forward to the big plans he’s made with his buddy Tick for the summer after a rough sixth grade experience. Mitch’s mom decides it’s time he and his brother Charley get to know her family, since her Paw-Paw is getting on in years. As quickly as that, Mitch’s plans are derailed and the family sets off from civilized California to rustic Louisiana, where know-it-all Charley bonds with cousin Woody, and Mitch is left to prove himself to a trio of older cousins named Barry, Larry and Gary, and the cool kid in town, Finn. Mitch finds himself treed by a bull, belly flopping into the creek, climbing a water tower and coming face to face with snakes. There are also real bonding moments over monster movies, comic books and baseball.
The humor, adventure and farting make this an appealing book, but the pace occasionally slows to a crawl, and the subplot of a drunk driving accident from several years back mars the coming of age story a little. Still, Marcum delivers the message of forming your own identity and not worrying so much about being cool with grace and subtlety.