Louisiana’s way home is longer than she thinks.
Kate DiCamillo’s character Louisana Elefante is not new to her many fans who have read Raymie Nightingale (2016). I, however, in Louisiana’s Way Home, am meeting her for the first time, and like so many of DiCamillo’s character’s Louisiana will not be forgotten.
When reviewing children’s or YA books, I often bring up the subject of marketing and usually bristle when the marketing range is between two ages. In the case of Louisana’s Way Home, Candlewick Press has wisely suggested readers from ten years and up. I, myself, am way up and couldn’t agree with them more.
Louisiana’s Way Home is written in the first person voice of ten-year-old Louisana Elefante, who lives with her eccentric “granny” in Florida. With no say in what is happening, Louisiana is forced to leave her two best friends, a one-eyed dog named Buddy and a cat named Archie. From page one, DiCamillo grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go until the end of whatever story she is writing.
Straight away we hear Louisiana’s voice: “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. They will know.
This is what happened. I will begin at the beginning.”
And so it begins at three in the morning when Louisana’s Granny wakes her up to announce the “day of reckoning” has arrived and they must leave immediately. The “Day of Reckoning” and a family curse upon Louisiana’s head are the key factors that Louisiana faces. I almost wrote “key factors that Louisiana must face” but DiCamillo is not that sort of writer. Her characters make choices, so that a “day of reckoning,” even for an eleven-year-old, is something, once faced, to choose to accept or not. Louisiana Elefante may be a kid, but she is a person first, and I have a feeling this is what young readers like most about DiCamillo’s characters — that they are real people. And I have another feeling: that we adult readers of DiCamillo’s stories admire her stories because they remind us that kids, as young and inexperienced as they are, are still people.
Louisiana’s Way Home is a misnomer. Louisiana has no real home. No real parents. She does have, however, two classmates who are loyal friends. And as her Granny takes Louisiana away from the barest stability, she is promised that her family curse will be revealed. What is revealed instead is that the curse is no more real than her granny. Louisiana is thrown into situations that compel her to fend for herself on many occasions. It would be a spoiler to tell how far afield Louisiana must go, literally and emotionally, but enough to say that she acquires a new friend and her new friend’s family. As unusual as this family is, they offer her a respite from the only life she has ever known.
DiCamillo plays with family names, who are we beyond the names given us? Louisiana must finally decide for herself who she is and where, if anywhere, she belongs.
I often hesitate to review children’s books because I have no teaching or library background. But I have been a kid and wish I were young enough to have read DiCamillo’s novels for young readers when I was that kid. All the DiCamillo books I have read and/or reviewed await my younger grandchildren. My oldest granddaughter already has her own stash of DiCamillo titles.
As we head into holiday shopping, please look to Candlewick Press and pick a Kate DiCamillo book, from picture books to early readers, to middle and YA books, and her near-fairytale novels for all ages. I haven’t read one yet that I would not recommend. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; Mercy Watson to the Rescue (five more in the series); The Magician’s Elephant; Bink and Gollie, Two for One; Flora & Ulysses; Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon; Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken; Leroy Ninkin Saddles Up; Good Rosie; Raymie Nightingale.