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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Louisiana Finds Her Way

lousianaLouisiana, a supporting character from DiCamillo’s well loved Raymie Nightingale, tells her stand-alone story from a first person account of the days after she is taken from her Florida home by her granny, losing contact with friends and pets, and discovering that her entire life’s story is a giant lie.She writes in a blend of innocent and weathered voice – charmingly melancholy:

“It is a dark day when you do not believe your granny.”

“I smiled back at him, but I did not use all of my teeth because, oh, my heart was heavy.”

“My goodness, I was lonely.  I almost wished that a blind cat and a lame fox would show up, even if they were just going to tell me lies.”

This tonal style fits the sorrowful story and our reluctantly resilient heroine well.  In comments about other books featuring resilient girls, we started the discussion on the different types of resilience and Louisiana’s is one that is demanded of her, out of survival necessity, and she is hyper aware of her own adaptability. Which might stretch the credibility of her voice for some readers, but not for me.  I found in her voice a deep authenticity that represents the inner thoughts of children, especially those that do not have responsible adults who care for them adequately.

Speaking of credibility — readers must first accept that this is somewhat of a tall-tale for the plot to “make sense.”  Otherwise, the schemes of both granny’s and Louisana’s and the solutions to dire situations all would be too improbable to swallow.   I ate it all up with great appreciation.

DiCamillo manages to tell a story with an extremely dark theme of emotional and physical abuse (Louisana’s constant hunger) in a fashion that is clearly understandable and would appeal to the target readership.

Louisiana’s Way Home received 9 nominations from Heavy Medal readers and has now risen to be among my own top 7 contenders of the year.  Eager to hear from all of you about it, especially from those who have very different reactions to the book!

(And this is irrelevant, but this front COVER!)

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Cara Frank says:

    I agree with this review wholeheartedly!

    I am in the minority, I guess, in that I did not like Raymie Nightingale (the first of DiCamillo’s books that didn’t appeal to me), so I almost set this one down after the first chapter didn’t grab me – but I’m glad I stuck with it. I agree that it’s at the top of my list (along with JUST LIKE JACKIE and THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR). This story is so heavy, and yet DiCamillo made me laugh out loud multiple times. One can tell just how carefully she chooses each word; I appreciate how concise the novel was. Due to the constant hunger that you mentioned, many of Louisiana’s breakthroughs come paired with food (her friendship with Burke Allen and his ability to get her anything from the vending machine; baking the marbled cake with Mrs. Allen; accepting the ice cream from grandpa Burke Allen [the description of his hand as a horse hoof, just perfect!] which later leads her to realize that she wants to stay with the family). I could feel the warmth and love that Louisiana saw in those cakes (representing the Allen household). I wish I had the book in hand to quote passages!

  2. Beth Tyhurst says:

    I LOVED this book! It made me laugh out loud, too. The expressions Louisiana uses and descriptions she gives are SO genuine to her character… just quirky!

  3. Does anyone have strong feelings either way? Pros and Cons?

  4. Thinking of the book as a fairy tale helps me to like the book more. While I was reading it, it was too far-fetched plotwise, which kept throwing me out of the story (I’m pretty sure that’s not how foster families work, singing at a funeral = enough money for several days at a motel?, every single tooth all at once when Louisiana doesn’t mention previous problems with Granny’s teeth? and on and on.)

    The sentence level writing was lovely, but I was trying to read the book as realistic historical fiction, and everything was way too over the top, so my reading experience was jarring and frustrated. Which is about me as a reader. I didn’t like the book enough to re-read it with “this is a fantasy” in mind, but I suspect that would help me to appreciate it more.

    I like Cara’s insight that all of Lousiana’s relationships were food related – even the negative ones, since every time she sees the church woman she complains about her not sharing caramels.

  5. For me it was problems with character development. Louisiana was supposed to be 12 or close to it. She seemed a lot younger with how she accepted certain things. This felt like a book with great sentence level writing, but I had large problems with believing the plot or the character. If Louisiana was seven or eight maybe I would understand it. Alys was right about the plot issues.

  6. As far as girls being raised by a grandparent books go, I thought JUST LIKE JACKIE was better… but I digress!

    As for LOUISIANA, I certainly liked it better than RAYMIE because it felt like a tighter story. I guess the magical realism/fairy tale thing confuses me a bit and I’m not sure how to discuss it in a Newbery sense. Style, maybe? It’s been said before that all of DiCamillo’s books tend to take place in her own world, not necessarily ours, but it’s hard to pinpoint why that is. There is certainly nothing “magical” about this story or RAYMIE. Yet, we tend to pass off the oddities because we assume it’s “magical realism” and DiCamillo’s universe even though I’m not sure we’d let other realistic fiction works pass if they contained similarly implausible elements.

    I’m trying to reread some of her work to pinpoint why WINN-DIXIE and TIGER RISING were widely beloved but RAYMIE and LOUISIANA seem to be more divisive. Betsy Bird I think, said she reads DiCamillo sometimes as if she’s reading through a fog, just creeping into the edges of the scene and it’s this fog we look at as magical realism even though technically speaking, there’s no magical elements anywhere in this book. I get that, and I don’t necessarily dislike her style, but it’s difficult to process sometimes how I feel about the book.

    The writing is top-notch whimsical but Louisiana’s naive demeanor paired with her classically sophisticated vocabulary left me struggling to completely realize her, but I realized enough to love her, if that makes any sense.

    I think when tearing this book down to the nitty-gritty, as the committee will surely do, I don’t envision it an easy task to build consensus around this title. I liked it, and marveled at what DiCamillo can do with sentences, but didn’t love it the way I wished I had.

  7. Steven Engelfried says:

    I was not quite able to make the leap into thinking of this book as “kind of like a tall-tale,” or “magical realism” or a “fairy tale,” but I feel like I might be missing something. Does the author do something to give us that sense? Is it the characters and language alone that make us feel that this story doesn’t quite have to be grounded in usual reality? The ideas of the curse and the trapeze artist parents suggest that we might be in a more fanciful world…but then we learn the parent story is a lie and the curse gets less plausible. It’s not quite magical and not quite realistic, so I had trouble fully connecting. Which contrasts to SWEEP, which I felt was clearly magical, but also in many ways grimly realistic.

  8. Leonard Kim says:

    I think it’s the telling that signals that this is a “tale” and not “realistic”. On Goodreads, Mr H. compares this to a Coen brothers movie, and I think that’s apt. I looked up the script to Raising Arizona online, and it almost could have been written by Kate DiCamillo. There is something about unexpectedly formal and incantatory expression that makes the otherwise real and mundane seem fanciful and even beautiful. I love Raising Arizona, but not everybody does, and I see now that I love LOUISIANA for basically the same reason – the combination of precision and incongruity that results in an uncanniness that feels almost spiritual: “I was headed off to eat bologna–meat of the county home, food of despair, / I love bologna! / Burke made me three sandwiches. They had bologna and orange cheese and mayonnaise and they were on white bread, and he stacked the sandwiches up one on top of the other and put them on a blue plate, and we sat in the dining room at a glass-topped table, and I ate the sandwiches one by one without stopping.” (102-3).

    • I like the Coen brothers comparison. Perhaps Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson too? Not magical, but still somehow not real, mannered, hyper-reality.

      • I thought of Wes Anderson too… In fact, I think RAYMIE feels more Wes Anderson than Cohen Bros, while LOUISIANA feels more Cohen Bros than Wes Anderson. I’ve always thought the Cohen brothers had kind of a rural style, while Anderson is more of an strange eclectic style. But either way, both comparisons are appropriate.

      • Hyper-reality seems like a great way to describe it, and so does “formal and incantatory expression.” Nothing about this seemed like magical realism or fairy tale to me – nothing supernatural or enchanted. But it is heightened realism with things (ceremonial aspects) that place the mundane world into a little fancier frame, and keep the poignancy without the muddy grit. Wes Anderson and some Coen Brothers are excellent comparisons.

  9. Tall Tales are not necessarily magical — it’s about stretching the edges of reality, making the situation more intense by heightening certain aspects of the ordinary. To me, the all-inclusive vending machine in the Motel & the popularity of Mrs. Allen’s pies are both signals of not-your-everyday-reality.

  10. I like your suggestion of reading it as a tall tale very much. There is a folkloric quality to the writing, which at once distances and brings near the suffering that Louisiana endures.

    Also, the intertextual references to Pinocchio reinforced the novel’s core theme of truth/dishonesty. And although DiCamillo’s work obviously doesn’t have the same degree of fantasy present in Collodi’s story, these references also helped me regard and appreciate her storytelling as not-quite-realistic, right up to the happily-ever-after ending.

  11. Mary Lou White says:

    I finally got this one read, and honesty, this book just made me mad! I would never give this book to a child. It feels almost emotionally burdensome. Some of the folkloric elements that others have talked about remind me of lots of southern fiction – quirky characters and unorthodox ways of looking at the world. In most southern literature, this delights me. In this book, it felt oppressive. I cannot imagine a child enjoying this book – yes there are moments of laughter, but they are minimal compared to the overbearing sadness and ever-growing pile of losses that Louisiana must bear. And for a child who has experienced significant loss, would this book help or just make the child feel even sadder? I would think a child in this situation deserves to read something a little more hopeful The writing is beautiful and the story compelling – I could not put it down. But for Granny to leave Louisiana with no money, no resources, no responsible adult, and little to no hope of ever knowing what happened to the one adult who claims to love her? Arghhh! Sweep and Hope in the Holler (which, sadly,has not made the final list) deal with abandonment and loss, but I felt both were more effective in balancing sorrow, humor and hope.

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