Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

9780763681173_p0_v1_s192x300 Kate DiCamillo abandons her animal friends and creates an unlikely heroine in her newest book Raymie Nightingale.  At first I was disappointed in the trio of ordinary young girls who become friends one summer.  Where was the brave mouse of Desperaux, the china rabbit with a soul in Edward Tulane, the typing squirrel in Flora and Ulysses.

Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana find each other at a baton-twirling class; all are planning to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and each has a reason for needing to win.  Unknowingly, the three have more in common than the contest; each is missing a parent or two and not only trying to cope with the loss, but also yearning to get back to what was before.

Although Raymie never does learn how to twirl the baton, she channels Florence Nightingale from the book her school librarian gave her for  the summer, and finds she can do the extraordinary – save a friend from drowning.  With the help of Beverly’s street smarts and Louisiana’s flighty sensitivity, Raymie gets back her soul.

Animals do appear in the story – a yellow bird set free from its cage, a howling rabbit eared dog rescued from a dismal fate at the animal shelter, and Archie, Louisiana’s back from the dead cat – the unsung hero of the book.  DiCamillo uses them to underline the theme of loss and renewal.

DiCamillo delivers a poignant tale of little girls who are brave and hopeful, but the story is really all about the power of connection and the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Reviews of Other Books by Kate DiCamillo:

Tapestry of Fortunes

After finishing Claire Messud’s stark story of loneliness and betrayal, I needed a 9780812993141_p0_v1_s260x420reaffirmation of the human spirit, and who better than Elizabeth Berg – one of my guilty pleasures – with her latest tale of friendship and happy endings in Tapestry of Fortunes.

The framework resembles Kris Radish’s Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, but this time the road trip of four friends seeks to bury old lives rather than a body.  Cece Ross has come to a midlife crisis after her best friend Penny dies; unsatisfied with her life as a motivational speaker and writer of self-help books, Cece decides to sell her house, move in with three strangers, and rekindle the true love of her youth. As part of her renewal, she volunteers at a hospice and befriends a dying young man and his fiancee.

The road trip forces all the women (Cece’s new roommates) to face their fears, and make changes in their lives – with the help of fortune telling cards.  All ends well, of course, with Cece reunited with her love, and the others resolving their own issues.

If you are a fan of Berg, you will know the story before it begins, and connect with her thoughtful notes:

“…someone who drives past a house she used to live in and finds it changed feels it in the gut.”

“…I hate this yin-yang life that is always pulling the rug out from beneath your feet…{but} when you lose something…there is room for the next thing.”

” It only needs a small quantity of hope to beget love.” Stendhal

And her reminders of authors to reread:

More Elizabeth Berg books:

  1. Once Upon A Time There Was You
  2. The Last Time I Saw You

The Last Time I Saw You

High school reunions can be cathartic or catastrophic – depending on expectations.  In The Last Time I Saw You, Elizabeth Berg follows a group of anxious revelers at their fortieth reunion in an examination at how assumptions can skew perceptions of others’ lives.

As always, Berg is an easy read, with surprises to spice up the plot.  Her characters never fall into stereotypes, but she teases you with that possibility as she starts her story with old high school gossiping and rivalries.  Instead, Berg develops her story into a realistic and touching view of lives as they deal with universal problems.

The grass is always greener, and the characters are not who they seem to their classmates;  all are dealing with their inner demons.  Candy, the class beauty and envy of all the girls has just been diagnosed with cancer; Dorothy, another in the popular crowd, has had her self-confidence shattered in her divorce;  Pete, the class heart throb and philanderer, is trying to win back his wife; Lester, a widower and veterinarian, is lonely.  As they play “the game of truth,” as part of the reunion festivities, aging revelers are forced to face each other’s anxieties as well as their own, and Berg’s observations offer an inside view of how her characters cope.

A thoughtful read, with a little soap opera quality, The Last Time I Saw You, ends with everyone finding out more about themselves – maybe even the reader.