A Long Way From Chicago review

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Dial Books for Young Readers, 1998. 978-0-8037-2290-3

Synopsis: Joey – now Joe – Dowdel and his sister Mary Alice would take the train each summer from Chicago to the middle of nowhere to visit their larger-than-life grandmother. Not known for being social, Grandma Dowdel lives in the last house in town and only takes part in community events when it is of some benefit to herself and even then, namely for the purpose of showing up another townsperson. Each summer visit is marked by a distinct adventure that could only happen with the influence of an eccentric grandmother: burying the town vagrant, outsmarting thieves and pranksters, using illegal traps to catch fish, ‘winning’ a ride in a biplane at the county fair, helping two lovers catch the train out of town, rummaging in the attic for costumes to wear to the Centennial celebration, and finding the ‘oldest’ settler to join a parade. Both Joey and Mary Alice continue to grow and change, but their grandmother is always tougher and more unconventional than ever.

Why I picked it up: I remember it being in the Scholastic catalogs in elementary school, but didn’t pick it up until my mom brought it home with her, courtesy of her school librarian.

Why I finished it: Each chapter is a different story of the summer spent in the country and the humor keeps the reader eager for more. Grandma Dowdel may be strange, but she sticks to her guns…sometimes literally. Set in the early 1930s at the end of Prohibition and the start of the Great Depression, the fictional snapshot of life in America in the years between the world wars is enlightening and heartwarming. Joey and Mary Alice are both in awe of their Grandmother, often feeling a mix of horror and admiration for her gumption and guts displayed when handling the townsfolk’s equally eccentric and strange habits. It is also a story about family: sometimes they embarrass you, sometimes they help you in ways you least expect, sometimes they can teach you lessons (both good and bad), and no matter what, they are always there for you.

Other related materials: A Year Down Yonder (sequel) by Richard Peck; A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck; When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt; On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck; Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians (Alcatraz #1) by Brandon Sanderson; Fair Weather by Richard Peck; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; The Great Fire by Jim Murphy; Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson; The Children of Crow Cove books by Bodil Bredsdorf


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