Study Guide

The Great Brain Quotes

  • Dreams, Hopes, Plans

    Chapter 1

    The failure of the new inventions Papa ordered was always made all the more embarrassing because he bragged about them in advance. The water closet was no exception. Everybody in town knew about it long before it arrived. (1.73)

    Hey, Papa needs his dreams, too. From the 21st century, we can say with confidence that he's picked a winner with this invention. It's hard to imagine so much skepticism about indoor toilets, isn't it? Thank goodness they caught on.

    I thought ahead to the time when I would be graduating from the sixth grade in Adenville like Sweyn would in June of that year. I too would be sent to school in Salt Lake City. The thought scared me and made my mouth dry. (1.49)

    Going away to boarding school is currently not one of J.D.'s dreams. Then again, he's young yet. We bet by the time he's twelve, he'll be chomping at the bit to get out of the house.

    Chapter 2
    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    "But Mamma," I protested, "I never get a chance to catch a disease first. Sweyn will be all well just when Tom and I are getting sick. And when Tom catches a disease first, he is all well just when Sweyn and I are getting sick. It ain't fair, Mamma." (2.13)

    When we were J.D.'s age, we were dreaming about a new Nintendo. We sure were lucky to come around after childhood vaccinations were a thing, or we would've been dreaming about getting the mumps over with.

    Chapter 3
    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    I knew Tom had this on his mind when he approached me with a proposition. We were sitting on our back porch steps just sort of lazily enjoying the beginning of the summer vacation.

    "J.D.," Tom said, "let me arrange to mate Brownie with Lady and I'll see to it that you get the pick of the litter of pups."

    "I don't need you to arrange it," I said, thinking he was going to charge me for it. "As the owner of the male dog I get the pick of the litter anyway." (3.4-6)

    We call it "summer vacation," Tom calls it "new money-making plans" season. Hey, he's not doing anything else—he might as well chip away at his dream of becoming a millionaire.

    Chapter 4

    Papa was a good talker when it came to settling somebody else's future. I knew Abie didn't have a chance when Papa went to work on him. (4.60)

    Aren't we all? It's so easy to think we see other people's lives clearly, plus planning other people's lives gives us all the fun of dreaming without any of the risk.


    Papa thought for a moment and then snapped his fingers. "Open a variety store right here in Adenville," he said.

    Abie's eyes brightened for a second and then became sad. "I'm afraid it wouldn't pay," he said. "The Mormons naturally buy everything they can at the Z.C.M.I. store and there aren't enough non-Mormons in Adenville to support a variety store. Besides, it would take every cent I have to open a store and if it failed…" He did not finish the sentence. (4.57-58)

    Abie wants it to work, but he knows from the beginning it's too good to be true. The grown-up dreams are considerably sadder than the kid dreams in this book. Tear.

    Chapter 7
    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    My brother sounded like a prophet of doom. I felt a chill come over me.

    "What are you going to do?" I asked breathlessly.

    "I'm going to put my great brain to work on getting rid of Mr. Standish," Tom answered. (7.56-58)

    The thing about Tom is that when he makes a plan, he follows through. The kid's super reliable in this regard.

    Chapter 8

    Tom put his hand on my shoulder. "Now listen to me, J.D.," he said earnestly. "Last spring when I saw Brownie making up to a female dog for the first time, I put my great brain to work. I took Brownie and Lady to see Mr. Monaire. I told him that Brownie was a purebred Alaskan and Lady was a genuine sheep dog. He carefully examined both dogs and agreed with me. I then drove a hard bargain with Mr. Monaire. I got him to agree to pay two dollars for any male pup and one dollar for any female pup by Lady and Brownie." (8.47)

    Now that's what we call a plan. Just as Tom knows an opportunity when he sees it, Mr. Monaire knows a good sheep dog. These two are a match made in puppy selling heaven.

    We discussed several ways for Andy to kill himself, only to discard them. I had never realized before what a problem it was for a person to figure out a way to kill himself. I was about to suggest we get Tom and his great brain to figure it out for us when Andy came up with an idea that sounded promising. (8.107)

    Okay, so we know J.D. is not the great brains of the family, but how is he dumb enough to literally make a plan to help his friend kill himself? Can we chock this up to youth?

    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "Do you promise to put yourself in complete charge of my great brain and do everything I tell you to do?" he asked. (8.191)

    These are dangerous words coming from Tom, but they're Andy's only hope.

  • Pride

    Chapter 1

    It was too much for me. I held back tears of humiliation until I'd run upstairs to the room I shared with Tom. I flung myself on the bed and began to cry. I had always been proud of Papa in spite of him buying crazy inventions that didn't work. But this time he'd gone too far. He had done what Aunt Bertha said he would do. He had made us Fitzgeralds the laughing stock of Adenville. (1.108)

    J.D.'s pride is a fickle beast. It just can't stand up to the embarrassment of putting a toilet in the house. In his defense, he is only eight years old, a time when peer approval is pretty desirable.

    How proud I was a half hour later as I marched ten kids into our kitchen and told them to line up to receive one of Mamma's delicious oatmeal cookies. Mamma's attitude puzzled me. She didn't look pleased and proud as she had with Tom. I caught her giving me a funny look as she held the cookie jar and each kid helped himself to a cookie. (1.63)

    This is what happens when you repeat an older sibling's con: You can fool Mom once, but you usually can't fool her twice. It's part of why being the youngest stinks.

    Chapter 2

    I couldn't help feeling proud of myself as I made my way home the same way I'd come. This was one time when I would surely get a disease first. (2.57)

    Yep, nothing gets past old J.D. He is going to have mumps before those sucker brothers of his and he is going to enjoy it.

    Chapter 3

    I took a deep breath and ran right up the diving board and jumped into the swimming hole. This time I held my breath and kept my mouth shut as I paddled and kicked my way to the surface. Then I began paddling furiously with my arms and kicking my legs. The next thing I knew I had reached the river bank. All the kids ran up to congratulate me. It was the proudest moment of my life. (3.55)

    We hope J.D. really enjoys this moment, because in the shadow of a brother like Tom, proud moments are likely to be few and far between. Bask, J.D., bask.


    I expected the crowd of grown men and women to throw rotten eggs at Tom after the way he had insulted them. Instead they cheered and applauded.

    Papa looked at Mamma and smiled. "What a modest son we have," he said. (3.210-211)

    Papa knows how to throw down the verbal irony, otherwise known as sarcasm, or saying one thing and meaning another. Do you detect a bit of pride in his son here, too?

    Chapter 5

    I watched bug-eyed as Basil got a headlock on Tom and put my brother down.

    I thought Tom's pride would be hurt because he was the champion wrestler for his age in town. Instead he was grinning as he got to his feet. (5.172-173)

    J.D. fails to consider the fact that Tom has never figured out a way to make money from being the champion wrestler. Training the champion wrestler may be a different story, though.

    Chapter 6

    "What Tena means," Papa said, "is that the strongbox was a symbol of Abie's pride. To have it opened and let everybody know it was empty would have meant having charity forced upon him. Abie chose to die with Jewish dignity instead of living in the humiliation of charity. It could never have happened if he hadn't been a Jew." (6.64)

    Maybe it's because we don't live in Adenville, but we don't really get this. People of many religious and ethnic persuasions would rather starve than take charity. A little bit of anti-Semitism seems to be showing.

    Chapter 7

    Papa's mouth flapped open and shut without any words coming from it as he looked helplessly at Mamma. For the first time in my life I saw Mamma so stunned she couldn't react quickly to a crisis as she stared at me with her mouth open. I couldn't help but feel a little proud of myself at making both my parents speechless. (7.173)

    Oh, J.D. He's made both his parents speechless by spilling every bean he has, but we guess he has to take his proud moments where he can get them.

    Chapter 8

    Frank and Allen Jensen were waiting in the backyard by Lady's doghouse. Brownie ran around smelling the pups and playing with them. Then he sat on his haunches, looking proud as all get out. (8.13)

    It's a proud day for Brownie, but an even prouder day for Tom. He's the one going home with the cash, after all.

  • Wealth

    Chapter 1

    His freckled face suddenly became solemn. "Sometimes my great brain almost scares me," he said. "I'll be a millionaire before I'm old enough to vote." (1.136)

    But the real question is if he'll bankroll sketchy political campaigns. Money, like intellect, matters most in how Tom uses it. In this book, he doesn't have enough to do much of anything with, though.

    It was the first time my brother's great brain had cost him money. I was positive Tom would carry the scar of this financial catastrophe to his grave. (1.176)

    If you want to get through to Tom, you need to speak his language—and yes, that means money is the best way to get through to him. Here J.D. refers to Tom losing money as a "scar."

    Backhouses ran from two-holers to six-holers. Ours was a standard four-holer. You could just about judge a family's station in life by their backhouse. Just by looking at the Whitlock backhouse, with its ornate scroll wordwork trim and its fancy vent, you knew Calvin Whitlock was a person of means and influence in the community. (1.4)

    Rich people and their fancy community bathrooms, are we right?

    I could tell from the conniving look on Tom's face during lunch that his great brain was working like sixty to turn this to his financial advantage. (1.42)

    How can you tell Tom's thinking about making money? He's awake. Actually, scratch that—he probably dreams about making money, too.

    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "Papa isn't going to like this one bit," Tom said. "Papa says it is brains that count and not muscles. When he finds out you made me give up a good money-making scheme my great brain thought up, he is going to be mighty angry with you, Mamma. You just wait and see."

    "When your father comes home," Mamma said, not in the least cowed by Tom's threats, "I'll have him explain to you the difference between an honest business transaction and swindling your friends." (1.155-157)

    Is there really a difference in Tom's mind? How can you tell?

    Chapter 3

    "Even if they are alive," Tom said, "Uncle Mark told Papa they are probably going farther and farther into the cave, trying to find their way out. And he said it would take an army months to fully explore all levels of the cave." Tom shook his head. "If they don't find them alive it is going to cost me a fortune." (3.123)

    And, uh, they'll be dead and it will be a terrible tragedy for their parents and the whole town. But priorities, you know?

    Chapter 4

    "You look worried, Abie," Papa said. "Do you need any money?"

    Papa didn't have any money because Mamma said he didn't know beans about trying to save a dollar. But Papa knew he could send Abie to see Calvin Whitlock. (4.52-53)

    Papa's awfully free and easy with other people's money, isn't he? Whether it's Abie's, Calvin Whitlock's, or anybody else's, Papa knows how others should spend their cash.

    Chapter 5

    I thought Mr. Kokovinis was going to cry. And if he had known how much it was going to cost him for Tom being Basil's best friend, he probably would have. Now that Tom had made Basil a genuine American kid like the rest of us, it made the Greek boy fair game for my brother's great brain. Right now, I thought to myself, I'll bet Tom is trying to figure out how much to charge Mr. Kokovinis for each new English word he teaches Basil. (5.213)

    If Tom were around today, he would definitely set up a for-profit university, complete with unnecessary course requirements he designed himself and textbooks written by himself under different pen names.

    Chapter 6

    Abie had earned himself a reputation for being a miser since opening his variety store. It began when he had removed the strong box from his peddler's wagon and placed it in the living quarters of his store. It was a box made from wood with steel bands around it and had a big padlock on it. […]

    It was just a couple of weeks after Abie opened his store that the rumor got around town the strongbox was filled with gold pieces. (6.4-5)

    There's just not a lot going on in Adenville, and a strongbox full of gold pieces is prime gossip. Plus, who cares if he has a lot of gold pieces? He's not a miser just because he saves his money.

    Chapter 8
    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "I saw the picture of the set in the Sears Roebuck catalog," Tom said. "It costs six dollars. If I had a set like that, I could make a fortune."

    "How?" I asked.

    "By charging kids a penny an hour to play with it," Tom answered. Then his face became thoughtful. "Maybe I can work out a deal with Andy." (8.6-8)

    Tom probably sees this plan as a great business opportunity for Andy, not as an attempt to exploit his seriously injured friend's coolest toy.

  • Community

    Chapter 1

    When the water closet arrived, he went home and got his own team and wagon to make the delivery. He told his wife the water closet had come. Mrs. Larson got right on the telephone to spread the news all over town.

    By the time Mr. Larson had returned to the depot and loaded the crates containing the water closet, his wife had let everybody know that today was the day. […] He drove the team from the depot right down Main Street, with people leaving their places of business and homes to follow him. When he stopped in front of our house, there were about two hundred men, women, and children in the street. (1.74-75)

    It was a slow day in Adenville, apparently. Nothing to do? Never fear, watch Mr. Larson haul deliveries. To be fair, this is long before TV or movies or anything like that.

    We were all born and raised in Adenville, which was a typical Utah town with big wide streets lined with trees that had been planted by the early Mormon pioneers. (1.2)

    Were Mormon pioneers more into planting trees than other kinds of pioneers? Just wondering.


    "Ladies and gentlemen," Papa announced to the crowd. "I am pleased to report that Mr. Harvey and I have successfully installed the first water closet in Adenville. You will be admitted in small groups of not more than six at a time. Mr. Harvey will explain the mechanism of the water closet and how it works. He will also give each group a demonstration. As you leave please pass through the kitchen where Mrs. Fitzgerald will serve refreshments." (1.119)

    Refreshments are obviously necessary, because if there's one thing that gives us an appetite, it's watching a toilet flush.

    Chapter 3

    It looked as if the whole population of Adenville was on Cedar Ridge, standing around in large and small groups. (3.84)

    Yes, exactly, the whole population of Adenville is always there, because Netflix has not been invented yet, so they can't stay home and binge watch.

    Minor Characters

    Tom no sooner got the rope off his waist than Mr. Jensen picked him up and put my brother on his shoulder. He carried Tom out of the chamber with the rest of us following. The crowd outside began to applaud and cheer as they saw Mr. Jensen and Frank and Allan. Several men got so excited they began shooting their revolvers in the air. Mr. Jensen held up one hand for silence. The crowd became quiet immediately.

    "My sons owe their lives to this brave boy on my shoulder!" Mr. Jensen shouted.

    The crowd went wild then, whistling, shouting, applauding as if Tom were some kind of king. (3.197-199)

    Sure, Tom's a hero today, but uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. He'll have to keep upping his game if he wants to stay on top.

    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    The crowd made a pathway as Mr. Jensen put Tom down. They kept cheering and reaching out to pat my brother on the shoulder as we walked down Cedar Ridge with Mamma and Papa. They even followed us home and stood in the street in front of our house.

    I followed Papa, Mamma, Sweyn, and Tom into our parlor. Tom walked to the big bay window and looked out at the crowd in the street.

    "I guess I'll have to speak to them," he said. (3.201-203)

    If Tom doesn't grow up and go into politics, we're going to be so disappointed.

    Chapter 6

    "Let us assume," Papa said patiently, "that Dave Teller, who is a bachelor and cooks his own meals, suddenly stopped buying meat from Mr. Thompson. You can bet Mr. Thompson would have made it his business to find out why. And let us assume that Dave Teller suddenly stopped buying groceries from the Z.C.M.I. store. You can bet Mr. Harmon would have worried enough about it to find out why. And let us assume they found out Dave Teller was broke. You can bet they wouldn't have let Dave Teller starve to death. And if Dave Teller had fainted three times, you can bet the people in this town would have insisted on taking Dave to a doctor whether he wanted to go or not. But Abie was a Jew and so nobody worried about him. May God forgive us all." (6.72)

    We have to agree with Papa here. Abie fainted three times and everybody just kind of shrugged? Is nobody in this whole town a Good Samaritan? The community doesn't look nearly so kind and inclusive when we consider their treatment of Abie.

    Mamma (Tena Fitzgerald)

    Mamma lay his head gently on the pillow. Dr. LeRoy closed Abie's eyelids. Mamma pulled the sheet up over Abie's head. Then Mamma walked slowly into our parlor which was filled with people. She looked as if she had just lost one of her own loved ones.

    "Abie is dead," she said as tears toppled down her cheeks. "Three times he fell carrying his cross, just as Christ did, and we were too blind to see. May God have mercy on us." (6.55.56)

    We don't want to take away from the seriousness of this moment, but what is the deal with people just walking on into the Fitzgeralds' house all the time?

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    Chapter 1

    "You don't have to open the crates right in the middle of main street," Papa said.

    "Rules and regulations say I've got to inspect the merchandise for damage," Mr. Larson said.

    "You know very well, Nels," Papa said testily, "the only time you ever inspect anything is when the shipment is for me."

    "Ain't nothing interesting in the others," Mr. Larson said. (1.76-79)

    Mr. Larson uses the law, Tom-style, here, purporting to do good while satisfying his own interests. He wants to check out the new water closet, so he defends his nosiness by appealing to authority.

    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    "How do you know Mamma will give them a cookie?" I asked.

    "She has to," Tom said confidently, "because she gave all the other kids a cookie." (1.59-60)

    Poor Mamma is part of Tom's scheme, and she doesn't even know it. Tom definitely knows how to use someone else's goodwill to his own advantage.

    Chapter 2

    I lay awake putting my little brain to work. If Tom knew how I could get the mumps first, there must be a way. I thought and I thought and I thought about it. When Sweyn or Tom got a disease, Mamma made sure I caught it by putting me into bed with them. That was why they quarantined people who had contagious diseases—so they couldn't give the disease to anybody else. Now, if there was just some way for me to sneak into Howard Kay's house and get him to infect me with the mumps, I'd have the last laugh on Tom and Sweyn. My little brain had done it! I felt like jumping out of bed and dancing round the room. (2.38)

    Yeah, real smooth idea, J.D. Maybe there's a reason Tom's the one called "the Great Brain"—he definitely busts it out to retaliate against J.D. for giving him the mumps.

    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    "Crazy like a fox," I said, sitting on the edge of the bed and grinning triumphantly at my brothers. "Maybe I've only got a little brain, but I figured out how to get a disease first for a change. I sneaked into Howard Kay's house while he had the mumps and got him to expose me." (2.94)

    It's hilarious that J.D. feels like he really got one over on his brothers. But then again, maybe he did—maybe this is exactly what he wanted. If it feels like victory, who are we to judge?

    Chapter 3

    I followed Tom out to our backyard because I knew what he was going to do. His great brain had long ago figured out a way to eavesdrop on anybody in our parlor. We were without doubt the best-informed kids in town on things parents didn't want their children to hear. (3.116)

    It's called "eavesdropping" because you hang out under the eaves while your parents drop sweet nuggets of information. Boom.

    Chapter 4

    I watched him as he walked toward the back porch, leaving me alone to make the decision. He hadn't tried to bribe me or blackmail me. With his great brain I knew he could have influenced me, but he didn't even try. He had treated me as an equal and left the decision strictly up to me. Acting strictly on my own, I decided not to tell Mamma or Sweyn. (4.50)

    It's kind of sweet of Tom to let J.D. think he makes these decisions for himself… Or is it just manipulative? Either way, Tom's mission is totally accomplished and J.D. keeps quiet.

    Chapter 5

    Poor Mr. Kokovinis, I thought to myself, you had better watch out or my brother and his great brain will take your cafe away from you. (5.57-58)

    We feel like there's a real missed opportunity in the book here. Wouldn't it be great if Tom got his own cafe to run? How many different ways would he find to charge customers?

    Then began the greatest swindle in pantomime in Adenville's history. Tom took twenty of his agate marbles and one flint taw and put them in an empty tobacco sack. He handed the sack to Basil and helped himself to another ten cents. The one-sided trading continued until Tom had gotten rid of all his old junk and had all but ten cents of the dollar Mr. Kokovinis had given Basil. (5.66)

    Tom sells all his old stuff to Basil instead of taking Basil shopping for new things. He argues that he's doing Basil a favor. What do you think? Do you agree with Tom or J.D.?

    Chapter 7
    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "You can't paddle me for something I didn't do," Tom said, glaring at the teacher.

    "But I can paddle you for not telling me who did it." Mr. Standish had an answer for everything. (7.45-46)

    Let's all just take a moment to appreciate that it used to be okay, and even encouraged, for teachers to physically beat students who misbehaved. Can you even imagine? No thank you.

    Tom was rubbing his hands gleefully as we left the schoolhouse. "I told you I would make Mr. Standish rue the day he paddled me," he chuckled. "He was a fool to go up against my great brain." (7.145)

    The Great Brain almost meets his match in Mr. Standish, but he thoroughly succeeds in getting Mr. Standish fired, so go ahead and give Tom another point. Dude is so good at getting what he wants.

  • Admiration

    Chapter 1

    Every year when Papa renewed his subscription to the New York World, they sent him The World Almanac. While Sweyn and I read books like Black Beauty and Huckleberry Finn, Tom read The World Almanac and the set of encyclopedias in our bookcase. Tom said his great brain had to know everything. (1.32)

    Hey, some people are fiction people, and some people are non-fiction people. Here at Shmoop, we love and admire all readers the same—to be honest, we'd even go so far as to say we admire books.

    Aunt Bertha

    Aunt Bertha shook her head. "I tell you, Tena, that boy could talk his way around anything."

    "He gets it from his father," Mamma said as if she was proud of Tom instead of angry with him for marching ten kids across her clean kitchen floor. (1.51-52)

    Tom can't be an easy kid to parent, so Mamma has to take the good with the infuriating, and the good is that Tom is going to be okay in life because he has the gift of gab.

    Chapter 2

    It was worth the belt just to have him talk to me and say good-night to me. Before going to sleep that night, I included Tom in my prayers and thanked God for giving me such a big-hearted and wonderful brother. (2.128)

    Tom knows a sucker when he sees one—and his little brother, J.D., is most definitely one of them.

    Chapter 5
    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "I guess your little brain is too little to understand," Tom said as if I'd stabbed him in the back. "I've taken on a task no other kid in town would touch—teaching Basil English and how to be a good American kid. You saw how happy I made Basil. You saw how happy I made his father and mother. Would you rather I abandon Basil and let the other kids in town make a fool out of him the way they did playing Jackass Leapfrog? I think you owe me an apology, J.D."

    I was now the one who felt ashamed. Here my brother was doing a wonderful, kind, and generous thing and I hadn't realized it. (5.83-84)

    Oh, poor J.D. Life with Tom is one never-ending game of "Jackass Leapfrog," and he doesn't even realize it. Do you think he'll ever get hip to his brother's ways?

    I couldn't help feeling my brother's great brain had planned it this way when he got Basil to fight Sammy. (5.162)

    This is one of many times J.D. references Tom's amazing intellect. Sure, things usually work out to Tom's advantage, but it's hard not to admire his cleverness.

    Chapter 7

    "T.D. will probably come out of this a hero to every kid in school," Papa said, and that is just how it turned out. (7.202)

    Papa says this following Tom's confession of his role in framing Mr. Standish. While Tom may not get Mr. Standish fired, he gets what he and the rest of the students want: a return to Miss Thatcher's policies. Sweet victory.

    Chapter 8

    "You can play with the set anytime," he said. "And my pa said to thank you for him. My ma said God bless you and she would pray for you. Ain't no way for me to say what I feel inside for you making me so I'm not useless anymore. I guess I'll just have to thank you in my prayers and ask God to bless you too." (8.354)

    Aw, this makes us tear up a little. Tom really does deserve our admiration here, when he turns down an agreed upon payment and does something good for the sake of doing something good.

  • Religion

    Chapter 1

    Adenville had a population of twenty-five hundred people, of which about two thousand were Mormons and the rest Catholics and Protestants. Mormons and non-Mormons had learned to live together with some degree of tolerance and understanding by that time. But tolerance hadn't come easy for my oldest brother, Sweyn, my brother Tom, and myself. Most of our playmates were Mormon kids, but we taught them tolerance. It was just a question of us all learning how to fight good enough for Sweyn to whip every Mormon kid his age, Tom to whip every Mormon kid his age, and for me to whip every Mormon kid my age in town. After all, there is nothing as tolerant and understanding as a kid you can whip. (1.3)

    Hey, many governments throughout history have lived by this same philosophy. It sounds like the boys in Adenville are doing their best to contribute to a proud tradition of religious tolerance enforced by violence.

    Chapter 3

    I knew the way Papa and Mamma were feeling at that moment they would have rather had a cup of coffee than anything. But Mrs. Olsen and Mrs. Winters were Mormons and the Mormons never drank coffee because it was against their religion, just as they never drank tea or any kind of alcoholic beverages or ever smoked any kind of tobacco. (3.179)

    Religion doesn't just operate inside places of worship and private homes; it also influences social interactions. Here we see this happening in a subtle way.

    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    "How come they've only got stores owned by the Mormon church in Utah?" I asked.

    "Shucks, J.D.," Tom said, "there are other stores in the larger towns and in the cities."

    "How come they don't have any in the small towns?" I asked.

    "Because the people who live in small towns are mostly Mormons," Tom said, "and the Mormons must give their business to a store owned by their church." (3.98-101)

    This is a pretty resourceful solution to funding a church: If there's not enough in the offering plate, open a store that a good portion of the town will feel obligated to support.

    Chapter 4

    Sunday morning we all went to the Community Church. There were only two churches in Adenville, the Mormon Tabernacle and the Community Church. All the Catholics and Protestants in town went to the Community Church. Once in a while a Catholic missionary priest came to Adenville to baptize Catholic babies, marry Catholics, and hold Confessions and Mass in the Community Church. And once a year the Reverend Ingle came to town and held a revival meeting in a big tent on the campground, lasting one week. All the Protestants in town went to the revival meeting. (4.13)

    Sounds like it's Mormons on one side, everybody else on the other. Adenville is so Mormon the Catholics and Protestants send missionaries. Whoa.

    Chapter 6

    We stood there shamefaced, an entire town, as Reverend Holcombe of the Community Church looked helplessly across the grave at Bishop Aden of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    "Read the Christian burial service over him," the Mormon bishop said as the wind from a threatening cloudburst made his white beard wave back and forth. "I am sure both God and Abie will understand." (6.57-58)

    It sounds like Adenville is doing its best. Adenville has so much religious diversity that you can be any kind of Christian you want. We suppose this might seem more impressive in 1896.

    "It isn't that we dislike the Jews or mean to be unkind to them. It is just that we don't worry about them the way we worry about other people. […] But the fact remains that we let a man starve to death because nobody worried about a Jew." (6.70)

    The thing that bugs us about this is that nobody ever says why they don't worry about Jews the way they worry about other people. Do they just assume God will send Manna, like in Exodus?

    We found Abie lying on his cot in the living quarters of the store. He was holding a Jewish prayer book in his hands, which were clasped on his chest. He was fully dressed, including his Jewish skull cap. His eyes were closed but he was breathing. (6.38)

    So this… is not a good sign. Abie has laid himself out the way one might lay out a dead body. And of course, the only reason nobody's checked on him sooner is because of racist presumptions about Jewish people.

    Chapter 7
    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "My great brain has thought of everything," Tom said confidently. "That is why I didn't let any Mormon kids in on this. The Mormons can't drink whiskey because it's against their religion." (7.101)

    If there's one thing Tom knows, it's when to exclude people based on their religion. Er… good thinking, Tom?

    Chapter 8

    And so it came to pass just a week before Christmas of that year a miracle took place in Adenville, Utah. The Christmas spirit arrived at our house early and with the help of a boy with a peg leg made a true Christian out of my brother. (8.360)

    The Christmas spirit works in mysterious ways. That said, we can't help but notice that it often seems to work through young boys with mobility challenges.

    Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. The Great Brain

    "Where else could this bottle have come from?" Mrs. Taylor demanded. "You and your boarders are the only people in the block who aren't Mormons, and you know us Mormons never touch alcohol."

    "Then you must have a backslider in your midst," Jimmie's mother said. "I would not take in a boarder who drank or smoked." (7.122-123)

    These ladies are working up to a real holier-than-thou religious war, all thanks to Tom's devious whiskey-planting plot.

  • Courage

    Chapter 3

    "Are you afraid?" Papa asked.

    "Heck, no," Tom said as if becoming impatient with Papa. (3.159-160)

    Afraid of the dark, scary cave? Nope. Afraid of losing his investment in the Jensen brothers and their dog? You betcha.

    I wasn't the least bit scared. Maybe it was my confidence in my brother's great brain. Maybe it was my confidence in my dog. I felt no fear at all as I watched Uncle Mark enter the passageway to the cave. (3.164)

    Here's a thought for you, J.D.: Maybe you don't feel afraid because you're just waiting outside the cave, taking no personal risk at all. Ever think about it that way?

    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    "Please let me go," I begged, more afraid than I'd ever been in my life.

    "Stop blubbering," Sweyn ordered me, "or I'll tell Papa you acted like a coward and disgraced the name of Fitzgerald before all these kids." (3.35-36)

    You'd think J.D. was being held captive by bandits rather than learning to swim, right? To be fair, we doubt Tom and Sweyn are using a YMCA-approved swim training curriculum.

    Sweyn Dennis Fitzgerald

    Sweyn shook his head when I finished. "Old T.D. sure has courage," he said. "I wouldn't venture into that cave for anything." (3.174)

    What Tom has is motivation. If he doesn't bring Lady and her owners out of the cave, he's out a couple of dollars, at least. If there's one thing Tom would risk life and limb for, it's a couple of dollars.

    Chapter 5

    He looked steadily at Mr. Kokovinis. "Basil is no coward or cry baby," he said. "He fought Sammy Leeds. He got whipped because he doesn't know beans about fighting."

    I thought Mr. Kokovinis would be angry. Instead he looked pleased. "I knew my son was no coward," he said. "Now this Sammy Leeds, you told me you could beat him. Can you teach my son how to fight so he can beat this boy?" (5.157-158)

    Are these boys mountain goats or something? Does a new member of the herd have to fight everyone to prove he belongs? Apparently, the answers to those questions are yes and yes.

    Chapter 7
    Other Important Adults

    "I have something to say to one boy in this room," Mr. Standish said. "I didn't have an opportunity to thank that boy last night. Regardless of what that boy did to me, he more than made up for it with his courage and kindness in coming to my defense." (7.200)

    Tom lives a charmed life. Mr. Standish has every right to be furious with him, and instead he's thanking him. What? Where were these teachers when we were in school? Not that we were ever as terrible to our teachers as Tom is to Mr. Standish. Though, then again, our teachers never whipped us, either.

    John Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. J.D.

    I put my arm around Tom's shoulders. "Old S.D. certainly has courage," I said. "He didn't even cry."

    "That was an act put on for Mamma and Papa," Tom said. "As soon as the train gets around the bend he will need that extra handkerchief Mamma put in his pocket." (7.7-8)

    Tom doesn't think a lot of his brothers in the courage department—or in the brains department. Or maybe he's just trying to show that he's not upset by S.D.'s departure. We bet he's going straight home to see if Sweyn left anything in his piggy bank.