Monday, August 22, 2011

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck [2001]

My Rating: 7/10

Quick Summary: It's the Depression, and 15 year old Mary Alice Dowdel's parents can't afford to keep her, so she goes to live with her rather colorful grandmother in the country.  The sequel to A Long Way from Chicago.

Whoops, it's been awhile- I got a little caught up in other things.  I actually finished this one a week or two ago, but was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to say about it.

Color me shocked- as mentioned above, A Year Down Yonder is set in the 1930s.  I should really start a running tally of all the Newbery books that are period pieces (although it would be easier to count the ones that aren't).  Instant Newbery- just add history!

I actually quite liked this one, and its prequel.  Grandma Dowdel is a delightful character, especially viewed from the perspective of her grandchildren (Joey in the first book, and Mary Alice in this one).  The books are quite fun, and frequently heartwarming without being saccharine.  The stories have a sort of ageless quality about them that meant that I enjoyed reading them without feeling like they weren't meant for children.

I think my biggest critique would be the fact that the book is anecdotal rather than plot-driven- it feels more like a collection of interconnected short stories, rather than one novel.  (Though A Year Down Yonder suffers from this slightly less than A Long Way from Chicago.)  I can imagine that this would actually make it an ideal read-aloud book for a class, however.

It's funny, I didn't recognize author Richard Peck's name until I read his flap copy bio, and saw that he was the man who wrote Ghosts I Have Been, which I read during my R.L. Stine/Christpher Pike/et al supernatural kick around age 10.  I guess I shouldn't be so surprised- Ghosts I Have Been was also historical, and had a lot of the same sort of humor, but on the surface, the books seem so very disparate... ah well.  Good on Peck, anyway.

This is exactly the sort of book that tends to win the Newbery Medal without a lot of argument- it could have been a winner from 20 years ago, or 40, or 60.  The flip side of that, though, is that there isn't anything about this book that makes it particularly relevant for the present- it's a historical book about white bread characters, which means that a lot of kids would find it rather exclusionary.

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