Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Book Review: Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (2019)

Beverly, Right Here concludes Kate DiCamillo's Three Rancheros trilogy, which also includes Raymie Nightingale (2016) and Louisiana's Way Home (2018). Beverly is now fourteen, and her dog, Buddy, has recently died. Unable to stand her mother's neglect any longer, Beverly hitches a ride out of town and finds herself in a totally new community. There she befriends Iola, an older woman who is clearly lonely and eagerly takes Beverly into her home. She also gets a job bussing tables at a seafood restaurant and begins to form a friendship with Elmer, the college-bound clerk at the local convenience store. Here among these erstwhile strangers, Beverly comes into her own for the first time.

This trilogy had a weak start for me, and my Goodreads review of Raymie Nightingale was not very positive. I found the story boring and the writing highly pretentious. Louisiana's Way Home, by contrast, was a really engaging read from beginning to end, and I think I read the entire thing in one sitting. Beverly, Right Here is decidedly not the disaster that Raymie was, but neither did it put me under a spell as Louisiana did.

I like the writing style in this novel from an adult standpoint. It's very quiet and literary, and there were many turns of phrase that made me nod my head approvingly. There is no question of Kate DiCamillo's talent as a writer. This book also shares some similar themes and even a somewhat similar structure to one of my favorite DiCamillo novels, Because of Winn Dixie, though I think Beverly skews more toward the middle school level than Winn Dixie does.  Reading this book just for my own entertainment, I enjoyed it.

Putting on my parenting and librarian hats, however, my view becomes a bit more critical. This is a very atmospheric book where not much happens. I liked books devoid of conflict when I was a kid, but this one moves really slowly and the ending doesn't even really take us anywhere. I also had to fight the nagging thought in the back of my mind that it's really unlikely for both Louisiana and Beverly to have such utterly unreliable adults in their lives. I appreciate that each story is about each of these girls learning to be herself despite hardships, but it's hard for me to just ignore the lack of good parenting. Countless girls have grown up with parents and have still learned to be independent and self-reliant. I might have liked to see a few more responsible adults, rather than these clueless strangers who take in Beverly without ever thinking to even call her mother.

I don't have a sense of the overall popularity of this trilogy, other than the fact that there are no holds on them on Overdrive in my local libraries. I suspect that DiCamillo's name sells the books, but they are really tailored toward a very specific, language-oriented and character-focused reader. I am that reader as a 36-year-old mom, but I'm not sure even my book-devouring five-year-old is going to be the kind of 12-year-old that will be drawn to this series. I like DiCamillo a lot better in this lane than in, say, the one where she has a little girl perform mouth-to-mouth on a squirrel, but I don't think this is her best work even if it is her best genre.

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