Thursday, May 01, 2008
A Long Way From Chicago
Peck, Richard. 1998. A Long Way From Chicago. Review by Becky Laney.
It was always August when we spent a week with our grandma. I was Joey then, not Joe: Joey Dowdel, and my sister was Mary Alice. In our first visits we were still just kids, so we could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small. She was old too, or so we thought--old as the hills. And tough? She was tough as an old boot, or so we thought. As the years went by, though, Mary Alice and I grew up, and though Grandma never changed, we'd seem to see a different woman every summer.
Now I'm older than Grandma was then, quite a bit older. But as the time gets past me, I seem to remember more and more about those hot summer days and nights, and the last house in town, where Grandma lived. And Grandma. Are all my memories true? Every word, and growing truer with the years.
A Long Way From Chicago is a book that is practically perfect in every way. (It did win a Newbery Honor.) It's historical fiction. The book is set during the Depression. The title page calls it a "novel in stories" and that's a fair assessment. The book does consist of loosely connected stories or memories told within a framework of an old man recalling his youth fondly. There are eight 'memories' shared within the book that are the heart and soul of the book. Seven are the consecutive stories of his summer vacations. Each August (starting in 1929 and ending in 1935), Joey and his younger sister Mary Alice leave Chicago to visit their grandmother who lives in a small town in Illinois.
Here is how the first chapter begins, "You wouldn't think we'd have to leave Chicago to see a dead body. We were growing up there back in the bad old days of Al Capone and Bugs Moran. Just the winter before, they'd had the St. Valentine's Day Massacre over on North Clark Street. The city had such an evil reputation that the Thompson submachine gun was better known as the Chicago typewriter. But I'd grown to the age of nine, and my sister Mary Alice was sever, and we'd yet to see a stiff. We guessed that most of them were where you douldn't see them, at the bottom of Lake Michigan, wearing concrete overshoes. No, we had to travel all the way down to our Grandma Dowdel's before we ever set eyes on a corpse."
Joey's voice is of immediate interest to me. He's a great little narrator. The story is rich in detail, rich in character. Every person--man, woman, child--has depth. Peck is just a genius when it comes to writing, to capturing human personalities with wit and humor and heart. The reader becomes intimately acquainted with Joey, Mary Alice, and most importantly Grandma Dowdel. A woman that is one-of-a-kind. A woman that has spirit, gumption, personality, heart, and a mind of her own. A very strong woman who sees the world in her own unique way.
I definitely recommend A Long Way From Chicago!!! It was a fantastic book.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews