Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder is the follow-up to his Newbery Honor-winning A Long Way from Chicago. Mary Alice is a Chicago girl, but she’s been spending summers with her “character” of an grandma, and now that the Depression is in full swing and her family is struggling to make ends meet, Mary Alice is going to spend the whole year with her. The book is a series of encounters with the other big characters of southern Illinois through the eyes of observant Mary Alice.
I still have not gotten my wish for something that takes place remotely in the present day. At least we’re about 700 years closer than A Single Shard? Sigh.
I’m going to keep this one short. There is nothing wrong with this book. Peck definitely has a talent for creating unique characters (this is the third time in this post I’ve used the word character, it’s unavoidable). Mary Alice is smart and has a dry humor. There isn’t a driving plot, more of a series of events, but that’s fine. You’re not reading to find out what happens, you’re reading to find out what people will do. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to approach a book.
And it has a sense of humor! It’s been a while since we got to a Newbery-er with a sense of humor!
But this did not light a fire inside of me or anything. I enjoyed the picture in my head of the postmistresses running naked through Grandma Dowdel’s house after getting spooked by the snake she keeps in the attic. I smiled at Grandma’s bullying charity when she works with the Lady’s Auxiliary to sell the stew. It’s all very charming. But for me, that was about it. It was charming.
Would kids like it? There’s some good kid-friendly stuff in here! But the kids that I know about (including myself as a child) are city kids. And I’m realizing as I get farther into this project that there has been very little for them to personally connect to. Not only do the recent Newbery committees have a problem with contemporary settings, they apparently have a problem with urban settings. It’s starting to concern me. So I have a hard time seeing my kids* get excited for all these charming country stories.
Does it have “funny bits”? Finally! Yes! This book is, arguably, actually a comedy!
Do I understand why it won? Sure. Who hates charm? And, as I said before, Peck’s characters really are next-level.
*When I say my kids, I mean the kids I teach. Sorry, I will never stop calling them my kids.