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DiCamillo’s Way Home

Louisiana’s Way Home{reviewing an Advanced Reader Copy thanks to Candlewick and NetGalley}

Of note: In Louisiana’s Way Home, Kate DiCamillo returns to an earlier juvenile novel to tell the story of one of its occupants. You do not have to read Raymie Nightingale first, but it will prepare you for this novel. And if you haven’t read Because of Winn Dixie, go ahead and get that one in, too.

lwh kdLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, October 2018.

Hardcover, 240 pages.

middle-grade historical fiction

You know how adults make decisions that are hard to understand and their children are made to go along for the ride? The Louisiana we got to know and love in Raymie Nightingale is being swept off by another one of her Granny’s middle-of-the-night-ideas. This will mean some pretty terrible things for them, but this will also mean some pretty marvelous things as well: like vending machine supplies, dessert, and a new kind of family to find (including a Walrus-like Reverend, three Burke Allens, and one especially lovely Crow named Clarence).

Louisiana’s Way Home has all the things I’ve come to expect in a Kate DiCamillo novel:

The need to read it aloud because of the vocabulary, the rhythm, and the way chapters round off at the edges.

The need for a Kleenex.

The levity.

She has adults making decisions that are difficult to understand, let alone accept.

Her protagonist is resourceful and determined, curious and courageous.

A community knits itself together around the protagonist from characters with interesting stories of their own.

Details like state-inappropriate curtains, or the continuous renaming of the church.

The librarian is generous and kind.

There is a spirited animal we’ll come to love.

And quotes/observations like this one:

“The world was beautiful.

It surprised me, how beautiful it kept insisting on being.”

One of the many painful realities that translate from our world into Kate DiCamillo’s books is how, oftentimes, adults make decisions that are difficult to understand, let alone accept. A powerful aspect of DiCamillo’s stories is how this reality needn’t sentence the child protagonist to despair or helplessness. She inspires hope by reminding them of their resourcefulness, of their brilliance and determination. Understanding a child’s ability to draw empathic response from their peers and adults, DiCamillo collects a community around them. It is significant how the self-realization and the strengthening of community coincides. The sincerity of one relies on the sincerity of the other–which is in crisis in Louisiana’s Way Home.

Of the many adult-decision-makers we have had to navigate in DiCamillo’s books, Granny was especially difficult for me in Raymie Nightingale. The only real solace there was that Louisiana had Raymie and Beverly and her quite fierce and charming self. Between resilient protagonists and a caring community, Granny was rendered relatively harmless.

DiCamillo ups the ante on her adult-conflict-creator with this question: What if that adult-decision-maker makes some choices that are not just emotionally fraught, but physically dangerous?

“I have been made to leave home against my will.”

“That is the story of the world,” Vic said.

In Louisiana’s Way Home, Granny has a middle-of-the-night-idea that destabilizes Louisiana Elefante and puts her in serious harm’s way (more than once). She’s alone now and at the mercy of vehicular proficiency and the kindness of strangers, including the kindness of her increasingly estranged Granny. Not everyone will want to hear Louisiana’s story, or prove generous of spirit (or candy).

“I thought, I am alone in the world and I will have to find some way to rescue myself.”

Louisiana Elefante is asked to do some difficult things to survive. One of those things is to have the courage to tell her own story; to find the story of herself (seemingly by herself). If Granny has lied about something that has defined everything about who they are and how they operate, what does that mean about what she has known or can know about herself? The stories she is told heavily influence those stories she tells to her self.

Louisiana also draws on another story, Pinocchio, to make sense of herself and her situation. Pinocchio is away from home and is beset by wily figures and liars. He may even be one himself. While he hopes to return home, Pinocchio seeks out and relies on the kindness of the blue fairy. His tribulations reveal more about himself and the world around him. Pinocchio and the world becomes (frighteningly) more real, and the impact of the lies increasingly fraught. Like Louisiana, Pinocchio navigates a world endangered by distortions and harmful misrepresentation.

Like her Granny, Louisiana is a great storyteller, and she longs to couch her reality in the language of fairy tales or magical realism. The Reverend Obertask looks a bit like a walrus in her mind, and a journey through the woods takes on a proper dramatic description. The fantasy makes it seem more real, more dramatically appropriate to the situation. We long for fancy for multiple reasons; not always to escape, to capture the adventure of it all, but because it emphasizes the reality of any given situation. The fanciful can bring reality into sharp relief.

Louisiana could use relief.

“I was certainly in need of magic.”

Louisiana’s tired of “imposing” and “persevering.” And there are things she’d like to know–like the magic words to reverse the family curse–”the curse of sundering.” Spoilers, but any reader of DiCamillo has learned to get comfortable with the discomfort that there are no perfect words that will make reality easier and more understandable. Not everything can be explained, not all curses reversed–but maybe they can be discontinued.

Louisiana is, as her Granny always tells her, “wily and resourceful.”

“Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.”

It is a grace that the novel is a letter Louisiana is writing, her story in her words. Already, that child protagonist is empowered, her voice is the one we’re hearing. She takes the conflict another has created, internalizes it, and draws her own conclusion; a conclusion that comes with the necessary influence of other capable children and adults. Her perspective is shaped by the stories she is told and the interactions she has been provided–because Louisiana cannot and should not find her way by herself; and, really, who can–or should?

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Recommended: for ages 10+; for read-aloud; readers of everything, and reluctant readers. Read this one aloud with your “sensitive readers,” DiCamillo is a capable guide for anxiety-producing plots and they learn a kind of determination and perseverance this way.  For readers of ‘empathy fiction’ (e.g. Wonder, Out of My Mind); of Katherine Applegate or Kathi Appelt.

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