Lulu and I continued our adventure with Grandma Dowdel that we started a few weeks ago via audiobook, and what a heartwarming and completely entertaining adventure it is! A Year Down Yonder picks up more or less where A Long Way from Chicago leaves off, only this time Joey is off working for the CCC and Mary Alice is a fifteen year old who has come to stay with Grandma because her parents have been forced to move into a small apartment due to the Depression. She spends a year with Grandma, so we get to see Grandma in all seasons instead of just the summers of A Long Way from Chicago. Mary Alice also goes to school, so we also get in a bit of 1930s teenage drama as well as the Grandma-created drama with the community. Although not quite as episodic as A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder still retains the feeling of going from prank to hijink with Grandma Dowdel, all for the purpose of getting the goats of those deserving of her judgment and scorn. If this sounds dark or depressing, rest assured that all of the objects of her pranking are completely deserving from the viewpoint of the reader. 😉 (The best comparison I can make between Grandma’s revenge on her “victims” is to Laura’s revenge on Nellie in the tv show Little House on the Prairie–“Have a good ride, Nellie!”)
One of my favorite episodes from the story is when Grandma hosts the George Washington tea for the DAR and drops a bombshell on the unsuspecting society ladies. It is positively gleeful! I’d consider this one more of a YA novel than a juvenile pick, or at least I’d offer it up to older elementary students. Mary Alice is a teen, so there’s a bit of romance. There’s also a Grandma Dowdel episode that’s a little risque (but hilarious). I had no problem listening to it with Lulu, age twelve, and I’d even be willing to hand it over to Louise, age ten. (Actually, it’s possible that she’s already read it anyway. 🙂 )
I should probably mention the audiobook narration. When I first started listening to it, I was a little put off by the fact that it is read by a woman (because I was accustomed to Ron McLarty’s narration of A Long Way from Chicago). Then I realized that Lois Smith’s narration is much more appropriate for A Year Down Yonder since this is Mary Alice’s story and told from her point of view. Smith’s narration hits all the right notes.
This book definitely keeps Richard Peck at the top of the heap of authors that I love. Humor, humanity, and heart are what he does best. It is no surprise to me that he won two Newberys (an honor and then a medal) within three years for his first two Grandma Dowdel novels. I have A Season of Gifts, which continues Grandma Dowdel’s story, queued up to read aloud at Christmas time. I can’t wait!
Other reviews here at Hope Is the Word:
- Fair Weather by Richard Peck
- Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
- A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
- The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
- Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck
- The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck