Thursday, September 27, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

The two things I remember most about being 10 was that 1- I got new glasses with a blue frame just like my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Basil, and 2- I was just so hungry for stories like Louisiana's Way Home. It would have been the ideal story for me, and together with Anne of Green Gables and a book my cousin in Wales sent to me called The School at the Chalet, I would have been in book heaven.

The Louisiana in this book's title is, of course, Louisiana Elefante one of the three rancheros from Kate DiCamillo's earlier book Raymie Nightingale. Louisiana is the girl with the swampy lungs who lives with her Granny because her parents, famous trapeze artists called The Flying Elefantes, died when the ship they were on sank. Since then, Louisiana and her Granny have been traveling around from place to place in an old car to avoid the "authorities" who, Granny believes, would send her to live in an orphanage.

So now it was no surprise when Granny woke Louisiana up at three in the morning to hustle her into the car and leave Florida and the other two rancheros, friends Raymie and Beverly, behind. As Granny explains to her, the hour of reckoning has arrived and it's time to do something about the curse of sundering that has been passed down from Louisiana's great-grandfather, a magician.

But Granny and Louisiana don't get far after crossing the state line into Georgia before Granny is hit with terrible tooth pain. The pain is so bad all she can do is moan for Louisiana to find a dentist, which she does in Richford, Georgia. Once Granny's teeth are taken care of, the two find themselves staying in the Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel for the night. But when Granny refuses to get out of bed, the motel owner, uncharitable Bernice, forces Louisiana to use her lovely voice singing at a funeral in order to pay for the additional nights.

Outside the motel, Louisiana meets Burke Allen, a wild child with a heart of gold, who knows how to get peanuts and Oh Henry candy bars out of the motel's vending machine without paying for them and who introduces her to the joys of a bologna sandwich with orange cheese and mayonnaise on white bread. Along the way, she also meets Reverend Obertask, whose advertised healing words on his church's sign turn out to not be the magic that Louisiana so badly needs.

Then Granny suddenly abandons Louisiana at the motel, leaving only a letter telling the truth about how Louisiana came to live with her and why she has to leave. Shattered and in despair, Louisiana is totally convinced that her life is always going to be a series of goodbyes thanks to the sundering curse. Kicked out of the Good Night, Sleep Tight motel, she finds her way first Reverend Obertask, and then to the Allen house. But now that she is abandoned and alone, not knowing who she is, will Louisiana finally end up in the county orphanage Granny tried to save her from or is the Granny mirage she sees in church finally being truthful when she tells her that "provisions have been made?"

It certainly sounds like Louisiana's story could be a mighty sad one, but it isn't, well, it is, but not entirely. And that's because DiCamillo has peopled Louisiana's life with a cast of some very eccentric characters, some mean and selfish, some kind and generous, that lend some humor to the story through Louisiana's wonderful narration.

Interestingly, I never really had a handle on the character of Granny in Raymie Nightingale and the same is true here. The one thing I was certain of was that she did indeed love Louisiana dearly. So her abandonment came as a surprise, but Granny has always told her that "provision have been made" and maybe there was something about Richford, Georgia and the people there that made Granny comfortable enough to do what she had to do. Indeed, something to think about.

Louisiana's Way Home is a somewhat complicated novel, but do pay attention to her mentions of the Pinocchio story about a wooden puppet who just wanted to be a real boy, just like Louisiana wants to be a real girl. And remember, it was Geppetto who first lied to Pinocchio, but it was the boy puppet who understood that he lied out of kindness and forgave him. Louisiana's journey becomes clearer. Granny also lied to her out of kindness, but now the time has come to face her own truth, and Louisiana can't come along on Granny's journey anymore, she much go on her own. DiCamillo deftly and sensitively handles the themes around these truths so very well for her young readers - the search for home, the act of forgiveness, the need for family, and a strong sense of identity, and of course, simply belonging, and she makes doing it all look so easy even when you know it isn't.

Now, what about friends Raymie and Beverly, and Archie, King of the Cats, and Buddy, Dog of their Hearts back in Florida, you ask? No, they're not gone, not totally. But does Louisiana's Way Home work as a stand alone story? I believe so, simple because in her narration of the events in Georgia, Louisiana provides what the reader needs to know from the adventures in the previous book.

Because of Winn-Dixie used to be my favorite Kate DiCamillo novel, but now I have to say it is Louisiana's Way Home. Somehow I felt that it was a more personal work of hers that any other, and it just felt more like it really came from the heart.

You can download a Teacher's Guide for Louisiana's Way Home thanks to the publisher, Candlewick Press.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

1 comment:

  1. This looks so great! I feel in love with this character in Raymie Nightingale.


Imagination Designs