Richard Peck – A Long Way from Chicago

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my seventh review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book is probably suitable for children around 10 years of age or older. Themes include siblings, grandparents, and rural vs. city living. The genres are humour and historical fiction.

Joey and his younger sister Mary Alice are sent away to the country to spend the summer with their grandmother in the late 1920s. At first the kids are pretty annoyed with their parents for sending them away from home (Chicago) to a place where they have no friends and nothing to do, but eventually they start to appreciate the chance to watch Grandma Dowdel in action. Grandma gets up to all sorts of capers which tend to shock and amuse Joey and Mary Alice, and most of the chapters end with a funny twist that lets the reader in on why Grandma did what she did. The book is written in episode-based chapters, which, after the first chapter, could probably be read in any order.

I enjoyed this book (as an adult), but I am not entirely convinced that it would capture a young adult audience. The writing is kind of hokey and the themes are a bit simplistic (e.g. Grandma pulls one over on the sheriff, Grandma enters a pie in the county fair, Grandma teaches some local hoodlums a lesson). I can’t imagine contemporary urban youth finding anything to identify with in these pages. However, as I said, I enjoyed the book as an adult and I think that younger kids (maybe 9 or 10 year olds?) would probably enjoy listening to the stories being read to them. I think the audiobook version of this book would be good for a family roadtrip — although even young kids might balk a bit at the slow place of the first couple of stories. If they can get through the preliminaries, Grandma Dowdel might win them over.