Saturday, December 28, 2013

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Summary from Goodreads:
Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell.
Sometimes it takes a few reminders for to me to read someone’s recommendation. I actually first learned about this book at BEA when I attended an author session with this author. It sounded funny at the time, but I guess I was more interested in hearing what DiCamillo had to say about her books that I had already read. Still, something stuck with me about this book, because I pre-ordered it for my library. I had all the good intentions of reading it eventually, but then I forgot about these intentions until a coworker picked it up and told me I absolutely couldn’t leave work without checking it out.
So, I did. And wow. This is a phenomenal middle grade book! I absolutely loved it. I loved the main character, who refers to herself as a cynic. Though, I think she sees herself as a cynic in large part because of her over the top mother, who is a professional romance novel writer. I found it hilarious that the mother didn’t qualify what Flora was reading as literature. Flora is obsessed with a particular comic book.
And this comic book not only brings forth an extensive vocabulary for our young main character, but it teaches her so many other wonderful things about survival, about creativity, and about dreams.
Any way, the book is mostly about Ulysses, a squirrel that gets accidentally vacuumed up by a neighbor. After his removal from the vacuum, it is discovered that he has super powers. He’s super strong, he can fly, he can understand humans, and best of all he can write (poetry)! Not everyone sees the squirrel as a superhero, and while Flora becomes skilled at convincing some people what the squirrel is capable of, there are others who appear to by more cynical than the cynic.
In the background of the comedic super her story is some more serious stuff about divorce, homesickness, and abandonment. And while this stuff is there, it in no shape or form ever overshadows the jokes about squirrel poetry, attacking cats, giant donuts, ugly lamps, and horsehair sofas. I was literally laughing out loud throughout my entire reading experience. Even the characters were laughing out loud for long periods of time.
This book is loaded with interesting characters who each add their own element to the story. Flora is just so smart and loyal to her super hero squirrel that you can’t help but love her. Between the poetry-reciting neighbors, the father who introduces himself every few minutes, the romance writing mother, the boy who pretends to be blind as a result of a traumatic experience he won’t talk about, the mean waitress, the evil cat, and a scary experience in the woods, this book was never dull.
Most of the book reads as a normal narrative, but pieces of it are told in graphic novel/comic book style illustrations. And I’m not sure what had me laughing more: the words or all the images of the bald squirrel (a lot of his fur was vacuumed up) typing on a typewriter and flying after enemies.
I don’t want to say too much more because part of this book’s magic was in its surprises. Just know it’s so creative. There’s a lot of emphasis on the power and importance of words. There’s plenty of humor and amazing characters. I recommend this one to middle grade fans. I recommend it to YA fans. I recommend it graphic novel fans. And I pretty much think anyone who picks this up, would like it. It so gets a 10/10 from me.

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