Book Review: Richard Peck’s A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO

I taught English, right? In junior high even. I knew that the kids liked books by Richard Peck, but I never recommended them because I had never had the chance to read them. All that is changed now.

My friend Hannah lent me his book A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and I’m hooked. Here let me give you the prologue so that you can see why:

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 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….

…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.

–from the prologue of A LONG WAY TO CHICAGO by Richard Peck

I have always thought that good writers just write stories and the reason people like them is because their stories ring true across generations. I find that this is the case for me with Peck’s book. It reaches me as a grandma whose grandsons spend time with her. I always hope they’ll have good memories. And I find myself looking forward to reading both about the crazy things that Grandma Dowdel does and how the kids react to her. I don’t want to give away a lot of the story, but Grandma Dowdel’s pretty good with her twelve-gauge Winchester.

There are a lot of elements in Peck’s story that help it cross generations. The story starts in 1929. I had my doubts when I saw that Grandma Dowdel baked her gooseberry pie with Crisco, only to find out that Crisco’s been around since since 1910 or August 15,1911, depending on where you look. And Mary Alice was reading a Nancy Drew mystery, which I thought was new from when I was her age. Wrong again! The Nancy Drew stories started in 1930.

Anyway…the Dowdel kids think at first that they’re being dumped on Grandma so their parents can vacation, but things at her house are so exciting that they begin to look forward to their visits. And to respect…and love…their grandma. Here’s what Peck has to say about the story in an interview with CBC Magazine:

It takes Joey more than a few summers to see that Grandma Dowdel’s moral code transcends mere laws, and men. It takes him longer than that to learn that she’s capable of anything, including irony. He’s almost a man before he knows how much she loves him.

Isn’t that the way things are sometimes with kids and adults? We don’t appreciate the people who love us the most until later.

The reading level of this book is listed as grades four through eight, but like I said, I think anyone can enjoy it. I read it aloud to the hubby, and we both laughed.

If you read it, I bet you’ll laugh too.


2 Responses to “Book Review: Richard Peck’s A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO”

  1. 1 Alexis September 27, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    it is a great book, they should make a movie i would be happy.

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