MMGM: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
ABOUT THE BOOK
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
As with any book written by Kate DiCamillo, I knew going in that this book would have plenty of heart. And I was right, it did. In fact, in my opinion, that is the book's biggest strength. It's difficult not to feel empathy for Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly. Each girl is struggling with their own heartbreak. By itself, this would make the book excessively sad, as so many middle grade books these days are. What lifts the book out of the depressing, is the friendship that develops between the three girls. It's this friendship that helps each girl find hope despite the heartache that engulfs them.
The three girls meet at Miss Ida Nee's house to learn how to twirl a baton. Raymie has agreed to this is the hopes that it will help her win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. And if she wins the competition and gets her picture in the paper, then her father will see it, and come home. Raymie comes up with what the reader knows pretty quickly isn't really a very viable plan in the days after her father has run off with a dental hygienist. But it's clear, despite DiCamillo's brief descriptions that Raymie is hurting and at a loss, and her mother is no help, lost in her own shock and grief. Having taken a lifesaving class the previous summer, Raymie is determined to rescue herself and her mother.
At Miss Ida Nee's house she meets Louisiana, a young girl grieving the loss of her cat (dropped off at the Very Friendly Animal Center), and seemingly on the run with her grandmother from social services (not everything is as it seems). Louisiana is the imaginative, optimistic one of the group, but she starts the story fainting from guilt (she feels like she betrayed her cat, Archie). Beverly, on the other hand, seems very hostile as the story opens. She's very blunt and set in her ways, to her mother's great annoyance. But it becomes increasingly evident that Beverly's hostility is a cover for heartache of her own.
As Raymie sets out to do a good deed (required to enter the contest), she takes along a book about Florence Nightingale to read to someone at the nearby home for the elderly. But things don't go according to plan and the book (library book) gets left behind. Raymie recruits Louisiana and Beverly to help her get it back, which triggers the growth of friendship between the three girls. As the girl's strive to help each other (after Raymie's 'crisis', Louisiana has a crisis of her own), they slowly come to grips with their broken hearts and discover that life can still be good and hopeful, despite the grief.
Once again, I have to marvel at DiCamillo's ability to put so much heart into a book of such succinct chapters and short sentences. While the plot seems a bit strange, it was easy to overlook in the face of such sympathetic characters. After reading this, I found myself thinking about all the different heartaches that exist in the world and that it's often through our relationships with each other that healing comes. DiCamillo has created another thoughtful masterpiece.