Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Format: ARC Paperback
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Number of pages: 240
Publishing: October 2nd, 2018
Source: ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Opening Lines: "I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, my goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer."
Kate DiCamillo has written some of my favorite middle-grade books, The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, and Bink & Gollie just to name a few. I have a particular fondness for The Tale of Despereaux mostly because of the characters and having read it aloud with my kiddo, so I was pretty excited to receive an ARC for Louisiana's Way Home. Interestingly, Louisiana's character first appeared in another of DiCamillo's books Raymie Nightingale, a story which sadly I haven't read. From what I can gather it didn't seem necessary to have read Raymie Nightingale first, though I do hope to get the chance to pick it up in the future.
Late one night, Louisiana Elefante's Granny wakes her up telling her "the day of reckoning has arrived and they have a date with destiny." At first, Louisiana isn't too overly concerned. Granny always seems to have these fantastical ideas and middle of the night excursion's are nothing new. As Granny takes them further and further away from Florida, Louisiana begins to question whether this is just one of their ordinary trips. When Louisiana finally confronts Granny about when they'll be back home and who's taking care of her pets, she learns the devastating news that Granny has no plans to ever go back.
For quite some time Louisiana and her Granny have been relying on the kindness of strangers to get by, or as Louisiana calls it "imposing on." At first, Louisiana tries to come up with a plan to distance herself from Granny and find her own way back home, but Granny is a force to be reckoned with, especially when her mind is made up. Shortly into their trip, Louisiana's Granny takes ill with a horrible toothache, which causes them to detour to Richford, Georgia and results in an emergency dental extraction of all of Granny's teeth. So Granny can recuperate, they plan to spend a few days at the Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel, but only if they can figure out a way to pay the owner Bernice for a room.
Louisiana has been told many stories about her past from her Granny. For example, that her parents were the famous trapeze artists The Flying Elefantes and that their family has been under a curse of sundering ever since Louisiana's great-grandpa the magician sawed her grandma in half and refused to put her back together again. While in Richford, Louisiana begins to question whether the real reason for their late night travel was really to deal with the curse over their heads. And then Granny up and leaves her at the motel with nothing but a note and Louisiana's world comes crashing down leaving her wondering who she is and where she belongs. I must say that I really disliked Granny and her reasons for leaving.
Louisiana reminded me of Anne of Green Gables in so many ways. Like Anne, Louisiana is a lonely girl who would give anything to have a home and friends. She's wily, resilient, wise and resourceful. When she exclaims that "the situation is dire," I couldn't help but hear Anne's voice. This is such a sad but hopeful story filled with many memorable characters. My favorite hands down has to be Burke Allen and his pet crow. Burke is a boy Louisiana's age who is probably the first person who has ever shown Louisiana kindness. Burke offers to get her anything she wants from the vending machine of the motel and later makes Louisiana a sandwich. Oh my goodness, these two are so adorable and Burke and his family are just the sweetest things ever. Feeling Burke is someone she can trust, Louisiana starts to share with him the story about the curse on her family. I loved how the story is written to reflect Louisiana's account of the events with her wry sense of humor. Especially the scene in the dentist's office where Louisiana comes up with a creative way of getting the dental hygienist to give her Granny an unscheduled emergency surgery appointment. Like I said before, this is a sad but very hopeful story, it covers issues of loss, abandonment, and searching for one's identity. There are humorous moments, wonderful references to Pinnochio and an ending that highlights forgiveness and leaves you hopeful for Louisiana's future.