Happy Monday, my friends!
I hope you have a lot of fun plans this week. We start packing more seriously this week for our big move. So I’m hoping to get in some blogging as a reprieve from the chaos! Can you believe it’s almost May? I feel like April flew by yet I’m quite pleased with how my reading went this month. Looking forward to sharing more later this week!
Today I am excited to share my review of A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. This novel is a sequel to the Newbery Honor book A Long Way from Chicago, and it won the Newbery Medal in 2001. I had never read either of these books before. So I suppose I read them out of order starting with this one.
I picked this book up on a whim at my library and devoured it in only a few evenings. I found these book delightful and often laugh out loud funny. I just fell in love with the quirky characters and the hilarious anecdotes that make up this novel.
- I haven’t read many children’s books set in the late 1930’s (the only one I can think of is To Kill a Mockingbird). This is an interesting time in American history right on the cusp of WWII and in the midst of an intense economic recession. Seeing it all from the eyes of a child (or a pre-teen) was really interesting.
- This is a short book and a quick read. Perfect for reading in a few days without letting everything else go. I bought this one and it’s prequel at Half Price Books this weekend because they definitely are home library worthy.
According to Goodreads, “It’s 1937, and while rumor has it that the worst of the Depression is over, the “Roosevelt recession” is firmly in place. It’s not bad enough that Mary Alice’s dad has lost his job, or that her parents are being forced to move into a “light housekeeping” room, or that her older brother Joey has gone off to plant trees out west with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now Mary Alice must spend a year living with her feisty and formidable grandmother in a hick town where the other kids in school think of her as the “rich Chicago girl.” Grandma Dowdel is well known about town and most of the residents cower in fear at the mere sight of her. It’s a fear well justified, for the woman has little tolerance for fools, a rifle she knows how to use, and a knack for cooking up outrageous schemes. At first, Mary Alice finds herself an unwitting (and often unwilling) accomplice to some of Grandma’s more shocking manipulations, but as time goes by, Mary Alice discovers a knack of her own when it comes to conniving.”
This novel is told in a series of anecdotes that help readers build a picture of this little town and the quirky people who live here. Each chapter can be its own short story. While they follow a chronological timeline, the stories are not usually related to each other. We attend a hunting party, Grandma hosts a fancy tea party, Mary Alice stars in the Christmas play, Grandma and Mary Alice go out trapping, and many more. I enjoyed piecing these stories together to understand the kind of person Grandma is, the things that matter most to her and the ways she changes Mary Alice’s life for good. Also, I think the short story feel made the novel read quicker for me. I couldn’t wait to see where the next story would take us. And while these stories are certainly funny and memorable, they also teach readers valuable lessons about survival, love, and service which makes them all the more powerful and enjoyable.
My favorite character was easily Grandma Dowdel. I loved Grandma so much! She is a fantastic character–seemingly isolated and uninterested in other people, but really invested and wants to help others. She’s quirky, intense, and a bit crazy. I love how well she understands others and how she always seems to get her way. Favorite scenes with her were checking her traps in the snow, hosting the tea party, and getting pie ingredients from her neighbors. I also loved her relationship with Mary Alice. They come to understand each other without words and she teaches Mary Alice the importance of helping others and giving back to your community. Also she makes excellent pies!
I enjoyed Mary Alice’s narrations of the different stories from her year with Grandma. I thought the point of view was very well done and easy to follow. Peck captures the teenage view of the Great Depression with spunk and hope despite the difficulties of the time. I felt like I was right there with Mary Alice attending her small high school for the first time, creating Valentine’s, inviting a boy over for the first time, and even running across town to be with Grandma in a tornado. I will never quite forget the surprising snake attack in the attic with the travelling artist just like Mary Alice. Overall, the perspective is fresh and realistic.
Overall, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. I loved the small town feel and the way these characters became family. The ending is lovely as well. I felt like I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird again. The tone and overall message of the book felt similar. I recommend this one and plan on reading the prequel!
What are some of your favorite Great Depression novels?
Any recommendations for my next Newbery Medal novel?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.