A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (J Historical Fiction)

A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder

Richard Peck (Juvenile Historical Fiction)

 It was 1937 and the country was in the midst of what people were calling the Roosevelt recession.  The Dowdel family, like so many others, had hit upon hard times and Mary Alice was to be sent to live with her grandmother until the family got back on their feet.  She and her brother, Joey, had spent many summers with Grandma Dowdel in her sleepy Illinois town, but Mary Alice was fifteen now and this visit was going to be a full twelve months!  With no telephone, an outdoor privy, a spooky attic, and everything being as old as Grandma…if not older…how was a city girl from Chicago going to survive in this hick town for one whole year?

A Year Down Yonder received the Newbery Medal in 2001 and was the sequel to Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago, recipient of a Newbery Honor in 1999.  In this wildly amusing and heartfelt book, Peck delivers one of the most outrageous, audacious, outlandish, and unforgettable characters when he gave us Grandma Dowdel.  She’s trigger-happy (and the whole town knows it) and not afraid to speak her mind.  But behind that gruff and crusty exterior lies a woman who’s generous to a fault and genuinely cares about her neighbors…although she would be the first to deny it.  Peck gives us small-town life and everything that comes with it.  From turkey shoots and Halloween hijinks to Burdicks (you’ll know one when you see ‘em) and burgoo, Grandma Dowdel handles everything with humor and candor and might even treat you to a glass of buttermilk and a square of corn bread in the process.

A Year Down Yonder takes readers to rural America and back to a time where folks learned how to make the most with what little they had and considered themselves blessed if they had their health, their family, and one or two people that could be counted on when it mattered most.  It’s a delightful and amusing book that extolls the virtues of kindness and the importance of family.  It also reminds us not to judge a book by its cover for it is often the tartest apples that make the best pies.  Just ask Grandma Dowdel.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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Quite A Year For Plums by Bailey White

Quite A Year For Plums

Quite A Year For Plums

Bailey White (Adult Fiction)

Roger is in love with a Yankee (although some of those people are just as nice as can be).  Louise arranges letters and numbers so that she can contact space aliens (who are really small by the way).  Della is having a devil of a time painting Dominique chickens (capturing their feet correctly is the hardest part) and has a penchant for labeling her garbage.  And then there’s Bruce who has nightmares about fonts (he’s a typographer and takes these things very seriously).  These and many more wonderfully odd characters live in a small southern town, and they laugh, love, and cry together…because that is what families do.

In the vein of Philip Gulley, Jan Karon, and Ann B. Ross, Bailey White gives us a humorous and heartfelt glimpse into rural America.  In White’s world, the boy doesn’t always get the girl and even the best intentions end in defeat, but she shows us that anything can be made just a little bit brighter and sweeter with just a jar of sweet pickles or a slice of homemade plum pie.

I adore Bailey White, but this novel came up a little short as I had a hard time sinking my teeth into it.  Rather than getting a rich and satisfying entrée, I was instead served several courses of appetizers.  White gives the reader many humorous and delightful vignettes, but when put together, they fail to form a complete and cohesive story.  Quite A Year For Plums is a quick read that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of emotional investment, but its quirky and lovable characters do make for an enjoyable book.  Almost as enjoyable as a jar of sweet pickles or a slice of homemade plum pie.  Almost.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com