Wednesday, December 18, 2019

In A Crooked Little House: Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

She walked down the A1A. She tried not to look behind her because Buddy had always been behind her, and now he wasn't. Up ahead there was a phone booth. She had the idiotic thought that she should call Buddy. Buddy. Who was a dog. Who was dead.

She went up to the phone booth. It felt like stepping into a tall, narrow oven. Her mother answered on the first ring. She didn't sound too drunk. "Where are you?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter," said Beverly. "I got a job."

"Whoop-de-do," said her mother.

Beverly hung up the phone. She closed her eyes. She could hear the cars going down A1A, and underneath that, the sound of the ocean. She opened her eyes, and when she lifted her head, she saw words scratched into the glass, glinting above her. She read the words out loud. "In a crooked little house by a crooked little sea." It was like the beginning of a story.

Beverly walked back up the A1A, past the fish restaurant where she had just gotten a job as bus girl, past the Seaside End Motel and almost past the Seahorse Court Trailer Park, where an old woman watering flowers calls out "Howdy, Howdy" to her.

For some reason Beverly turns into the park, where the old woman named Iola asks for help turning off the water and kindly invites Beverly inside her tiny trailer for a tuna melt sandwich. Beverly doesn't want to talk to her, but she's hungry and the old woman needs someone to drive her old Buick for her so she can go to play Bingo. Beverly's been driving since when her uncle taught her at age four, so she accepts the offer for tuna melt sandwiches and a sofa on Iola's porch for a bedroom.
There was something about sitting at the tiny table in the tiny kitchen and having Iola slide a plate of food in front of her that made Beverly feel like a little kid--happy, taken care of.

It soon seems everyone in Tamaray Beach, Florida wants to go somewhere else. Iola wants to go the the VFW Christmas in July dance and win the world's largest turkey, and at the cafe' waitress Freddie informs Beverly that she's going to be a famous model, maybe a movie star in Hollywood when she saves up enough money to go there with her boyfriend Jerome. Elmer, the boy at the counter at Zoom City on the A1A, has a scholarship to Dartmouth to study engineering but wants to go there to see art museums. Even Vera, the little girl crying outside the store, wants a go on the weathered mechanical horse that doesn't go anywhere. But Beverly doesn't know where she wants to go.

In her latest, Kate DiCamillo's Beverly, Right Here (Candlewick Press, 2019), the author immerses the reader in the coastal Florida landscape so deeply that you feel the sun in your eyes and the sand in your shoes. It's not the Florida of posh high-rise beach hotels with cookie-cutter balconies, but a 1970s Florida of tiny trailers that go nowhere and struggling seafood diners permeated with the smell of fried fish, but where fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski nevertheless discovers where she wants to be.

In this book DiCamillo returns to the roots of her Newbery-winning Because of Winn-Dixie and completes her trilogy that began with her Raymie Nightingale (review here). Says Booklist's starred review, "DiCamillo writes in a spare style, describing small, seemingly disparate moments that gradually come together in a rich, dynamic picture. The other thing she does brilliantly is shape characters whose eccentricities make them heartbreakingly, vividly real.

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