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What a delightful book this is. It’s filled with wonderful characters, and the three girls who form a partnership and called themselves the Three Rancheros are the best I’ve found in a while.
There’s Louisiana, who has “very swampy lungs” and is prone to fainting. Beverly Tapinski is a would-be saboteur, and a seemingly-tough cookie. Raymie Clarke feels that absolutely everything depends on her, and accordingly she has a plan to make her father (who just ran off with a dental hygienist) realise the error of his ways and return home to his family.
They are thrown together accidentally by being enrolled in a baton-twirling class to enhance their chances of winning the Little Miss Central Florida Tyre contest; winning this will solve all their problems, they believe – but things turn out a little differently than they expect.
Kate DiCamillo draws all her characters so well that you can see them. Mrs Borkowski, who never does her shoelaces up and likes to sit in the sun, in the middle of the street, on a lawn chair, is a mine of information for Raymie. Mr Staphopoulos – a minor but important character – has a lasting effect on her too. Louisiana’s mad grandmother has a fairly central role, whizzing by in her rickety car to collect Louisiana from various places, but also providing great support for all three girls. Ruthie, the nurse at the emergency department at the local hospital,is a fabulously empathetic character – you almost want to do what the girls did so that you can meet her!
The book is set in the mid 70s in small-town Florida, where the author grew up. She shares some traits with Raymie – worrying about the soul, failing at baton-twirling, having a father who bailed out on the family – but Raymie’s story is entirely fictional, says DiCamillo.
Whether it is, or not, is absolutely immaterial. The story rolls along and sweeps you up. It’s a pure delight from start to finish. Being set in a time when life was – we like to think – a great deal less complicated gives it a fresh appeal, which oddly enough took me back to the early stories by Judy Blume and Beverley Cleary. I don’t think the stories themselves are similar, it’s just the feeling that’s created.
You should read this book and see if you agree. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Walker Books