Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
This book was rather remarkable. Seriously, I don’t know how Kate DiCamillo does it. Her writing is gold. Her ability to get into the mindset of a young girl is just insane. There’s things she just knows. And there’s this overall sense of naïveté in the main character, Raymie. Like, how could winning a beauty pageant bring home a cheating father? Yet, at the same time, she’s so wise. She knows what to say at nurses at the hospital to get the appropriate reaction.
This book was powerful stuff. It dealt with some seriously dark concepts: cheating husbands, no-good fathers, death, the meaning of life, sorrow, grief, and pain. But, like how Raymie has this coating of naiveté, the story has this overlay of optimism, baton twirling, cat rescuing, and tuna feasting. This is the making of one extraordinary middle grade book.
And no one, absolutely no one can write a middle grade character like DiCamillo. Raymie was me as a kid –afraid to walk on the wrong colored tiles in fear of bad luck. She hears important words and statements and repeats them, and tries to suck them up like a sponge, but isn’t quite at the understanding level to do so. She helps her elderly neighbor by clipping her toenails. She believes in ghosts and sees the magic in a container of candy corn. Yet, when her more realist friend, Beverly, says things like there are no such things as ghosts or extremely friendly animal shelters, Raymie understands that she’s probably wrong.
Opposite the realist, is the dramatic Louisiana, whose first words in the book revolve around betraying someone named Archie. Later you learn that Archie is a cat. But still, this girl is a dramatic ray of sunshine. And the three girls together just make weird, believable kind of balance.
This is not a plot-driven story. It’s 100% for the character lovers. It’s a character driven story, filled with dark humor, sadness, and love. This previous year just killed it with the middle grade books. And if I had read this one a little earlier, it would have been another middle grade to add to my Best of 2016 books. I give it a 10/10. I highly recommend it to people who like friendship stories and character-driven stories.