Anne Slater's Reviews > A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
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's review
Dec 24, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2011

The cover shown above has none of the character of the Scholastic Press edition.... I stayed in bed to read this book this morning. You'd do well to do the same, or to sit down in front of a fire with a cup of tea and a couple of cookies...

A Year Down Yonder is a sequel to A Long Way from Chicago. Same cast of characters, different layout.
Mary Alice, Joey's younger sister, is the narrator. She is about 15. The recession following the Depression and preceding the war means that MA's parents have lost their house. Joey is off with the CCC planting trees, and Mary Alice is sent to spend a year with her grandmother. Imagine being uprooted at 14, torn from your friends, to spend a year with your slightly nutty, headstrong, sure-of-herself grandmother.

The story is gentle and not a bit unbelievable. A little outrageous, perhaps, but that's Grandma Dowdel.

What makes this story, as well as the previous one, is the way Richard Peck captures the vocabulary of the area and of the era. He uses them, does not condescend to define or explain. You KNOW what Mary Alice means when she describes the scene after the wealthiest person in town patching a tire shot by the school principal's unruly son "The air was blue"

I opened randomly to page 29. Here are the idioms and nouns that I find that create the atmosphere that envelops the reader: gunnysack, wide berth, "old as dirt and deaf as an adder", "He goes to bed with the chickens". The girls in the school (all 17 children in the "high school") study "Home Ec" and somehow crochet used soda bottle caps into hot-pads (for taking hot casseroles out of the oven.

Richard Peck's ability to make his teen girl narrator real, to evoke cash-strapped Grandma Dowdel's strength of character and attention to the personal dignity of the least of her neighbors make you wish she were YOUR Grandma, and that there were more stories of her and her grandchildren. Perhaps there are-- nuts, the library was closed today. (I'd go on and on except it's Christmas Eve and I have things to do.)
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