In Barbara Ware Holmes’s mystery novel for children Following Fake Man
(2001), a young boy wanting to find out more about his dead father and where he comes from goes on an adventure to find his father’s old friends. It was nominated for the California Young Readers Medal in 2006. Holmes once received the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Fiction. Holmes, a popular novelist who writes for children and teenagers, is best known for tackling difficult themes in a way that is accessible for children.
Twelve-year-old Homer Winthrop lives with his mother and their housekeeper, Madeline. Homer’s father, Homer Aldrich Winthrop, died when young Homer was just two years old. Homer’s mother refuses to talk about him. All she tells Homer is that he was a successful neurologist who unfortunately died from a mental illness.
When Homer asks his mother questions, she pretends that she has a migraine or that she can’t hear him so that he’ll stop talking. Madeline encourages Homer to let it go because some things are best left in the past, but Homer can’t stop thinking about his father. Although he doesn’t question his mother anymore, he plans to find out what happened to his father all on his own.
One day, Homer’s mother tells him that they are going on holiday to Maine. The family has a vacation cottage in Herring Cove, and they will spend a few weeks there in the sunshine together. Homer realizes that something is special about the small coastal village of Herring Cove, not just that it’s quaint and sunny: It’s where his father grew up. If there’s ever a chance for Homer to find out more about his father, it’s now.
Homer makes another discovery in Herring Cove. This cottage isn’t just a holiday home; it’s where the family lived before Homer died. They moved away from Maine to Boston because Homer’s mother couldn’t deal with the memories of what happened to her husband. For the first time, young Homer wonders if there is a reason why his mother doesn’t talk about his father. He wonders if some secrets are best left hidden after all.
One day, while he’s walking along the shoreline, Homer meets a young boy called Roger. Roger is cheerful, talkative, and bold. Homer likes him right away. He wishes he knew kids like Roger back in Boston. Homer doesn’t have many friends at school because he is shy and reserved, and he spends most of his free time alone.
Homer tells Roger about his father and the mystery of what happened to him. Roger loves a good mystery, and he vows to help Homer uncover the truth. They decide that their best shot at finding out about Homer’s father lies with a man on the beach called Fake Man. Fake Man wanders around all day not speaking to anyone. The locals are afraid of him, always assuming that he is up to something illegal. Roger wonders if Fake Man is just lonely and looking for a friend.
In the meantime, Homer stops talking about his father to Madeline. She notices that he is different. He doesn’t do everything that his mother tells him to do anymore, he’s more assertive, and he says what he’s thinking. She admits that she likes this new Homer because she always thought he was too quiet before. This holiday changes Homer in many ways.
One afternoon, the boys follow Fake Man to a nearby cabin. When Fake Man leaves, they sneak inside to investigate. Inside the cabin, Homer finds a statue with his father’s name on it. Convinced that Fake Man is the key to understanding his father’s mysterious death, together with Roger, he vows to find out more about this strange nameless man.
Time passes by and Homer knows he only has a few more weeks to solve the mystery. Eventually, he gets a break when he finds out that Fake Man’s real name is Owen Castle. A reclusive artist without much money, when he’s not walking around on the beach alone, he is painting and thinking about his old friends. As it turns out, Owen’s best friend was Homer’s father.
Homer asks Owen what he knows about his father. Owen doesn’t want to talk at first because he is worried that it will upset Homer’s mother. However, he soon decides that it is time for Homer to know the truth. He admits that Homer’s father killed himself. He was very unhappy and suffered from severe depression; he didn’t want to live any longer.
The news of his father’s suicide shocks Homer, but now he understands his mother better. She didn’t hide the truth from him out of badness. She only wanted to protect him. Homer now feels that he can move on with his life and leave the past behind. He will never forget this summer in Herring Cove.