Sometimes it pays to misbehave. Or does it? Daralynn is grounded the day her daddy goes up in his air-o-plane with her older brother and younger sister. Now after their deaths, she is still left behind with her motion-sick mother and the small community of Digginsville in the Missouri Ozarks (of the 1970s). As Daralynn sorts out the differences between Before the Crash (BC) and After the Deaths (AD), she learns what it means to be grounded in every aspect of the word.
After her brother, sister, and father die in a plane crash, Daralynn Oakland receives 237 dolls from well-wishers, resulting in her nickname: Dolly. But dolls are little comfort to a twelve-year-old girl whose world is rocked by the dramatic changes in her life, including her angry, grieving mothers new job as a hairstylist at the local funeral home.
Dolly gets a job, too, where she accidentally invents a fashionable new haircut. But her real work begins when a crematorium comes to town, and someone has to save a dying business, solve a burning mystery, and resuscitate the broken hearts in Digginsville, Missouri, population 402. ~Publisher’s Comment.
Grounded, as a novel surrounding a significant loss, has a charm all its own. I say this and I am going to reference Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo in a minute. Kate Klise has drawn colorful characters that aren’t so outlandish as to be unrecognizable. It took a while for post-Vietnam and 70’s fashion to click in, and even still the story and its characters felt (and continue to feel) contemporary. Klise also brings to life the angry grieving widow, which is so beautifully convincing. But it is her first person protagonist that makes the story smile and tear-up.
I couldn’t help but think about DiCamillo’s India Opal Buloni when meeting Daralynn Oakland. She is a bit tom-boyish, too. And independent, inventive, and curious, and set adrift on her own. Except neither are really alone as the community comes to life about them in all its quirky wonder.
“Why did people think giving me dead dolls would make me feel better about my dead family? It didn’t make sense. All the strange things people did and said when other people died: None of it made sense.” (127).
Klise doesn’t try to make complete sense of why people respond to death the way they do. She does offer some contextual insight, enough to make responses seem more plausible (like the mother’s), but little more than that. The presence of another provides the anchor, not hard-won band-aid explanations. Kate Klise summarizes, “In my mind it’s always, always about the search for someone to keep us grounded in love.”*She creates a persuasive argument with Grounded.
Little makes sense, but that doesn’t stop Daralynn from wondering about why that is. And in some situations, when things don’t add up, they deserve a second or third look. Like the things that happen after the crematorium man comes to town. Daralynn (and the Reader) are rewarded for being observant, for questioning why things are the way they are.
Nothing feels more real than the weirdness of human behavior; which complicates the story considerably and creates mysteries that are natural in effect. Who is being true to themselves, and what happens when they are or are not? How do we survive our own grief, let alone someone else’s? Are the two even separable? and What will become of that disastrous haircut?
Klise writes a good story. Her voice is so smooth, so effortless. I thought to read a short bit before bed and had to force myself to set the book down. It isn’t a really long read, and all the ribbons slide into a quietly pretty little bow. Using a writerly narrator who is telling the story from some point in the future is used subtly (after the least subtle signal on page 37) and intentionally, allowing metaphors and early observations their continual relevance, and allowing for a very tidy, well-crafted story.
recommendations: 9-13; boys and girls; those who like: humor, southern charm, (non-fantasy) Kate DiCamillo, wordplay, a bit of peril and mystery, who struggle with grief, who like non-message-y/non-therapy-driven books.
of note: I am rarely one to pitch a story for filming, but I would love to see this one adapted to screen.
*Kate Klise posts “Grounded in Real Life” (Nov 2010) for Macmillan Children’s Publishing “MacKids” blog about the inspiration behind writing Grounded. do read it.
Grounded by Kate Klise
Feiwel and Friends, 2010. Hardcover, 193 pages.
[borrowed from the Library]