Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016)

Mrs. Borkowski, who lived across the street from Ramie and who was very, very old, said that most people wasted their souls.
“How do they waste them?” Ramie asked.
“They let them shrivel,” said Mrs. Borkowski. “Phhhhtttt.”
Which was maybe- Ramie wasn’t sure – a sound a soul made when it shriveled (p 17-18).

RaymieNightingaleTwo days ago, 10-year old Raymie Nightingale’s father walked out on her and her mother. Unable to talk to her mother about this “great tragedy” (p 3), Raymie hatches a plan to attract her father’s attention away from his lover and lure him back home. She will enter and win the LITTLE MISS CENTRAL FLORIDA TIRE 1975 contest, thereby getting her name in the paper and ensuring her father’s return (maybe).

To win the contest, Raymie must learn to twirl a baton. The book opens with her first lesson under Ida Nee, a former baton twirling champion recognized state-wide but now a rather washed up, ridiculous woman.

Also receiving lessons are Little Miss hopeful Louisiana and hardened, tough-talking Beverly, who plans to sabotage the Little Miss contest. All three girls are dealing with loss and grief. A friendship of sorts begins to bloom between them and Raymie, who sometimes feels “too terrified to go on” (p  4), finds her soul reacting to their presence. Together, they help each other make sense of their worlds and come to deal with their pain.

The Washington Post has called Raymie Nightingale a ” fairy tale for our times” where “young damsels in distress test their courage and rescue one another.”

Kirkus’s starred review proclaims “DiCamillo’s third-person narrative is written in simple words, few exceeding three syllables, yet somehow such modest prose carries the weight of deep meditations on life, death, the soul, friendship, and the meaning of life without ever seeming heavy, and there’s even a miracle to boot.”

The writing is, like all DiCamillo’s books, superb. There are dollops of humor and gravitas in balance and a sense of understanding, if not happiness, at the conclusion. Raymie lacks the sense of magic I enjoyed so much in Despereaux and The Magician’s Elephant but I enjoyed it very much. My only other (slight) complaint is that I did not feel transported to 1975.

Overall excellent and a contender for our KidLit Club’s Mock Newbery 2016.


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