Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories

A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories

Richard Peck
For ages 12 to and up
Penguin, 2000   ISBN: 978-0141303529

Joey and his sister Alice have always known that their Grandma Dowdel is a tough old lady but it is only when they start spending time with her in the summers that they get a real sense of how tough she is. It is the Depression and times are hard. Grandma Dowdel, like so many other people, has to adapt to the changing circumstances. Some things don’t change though; Grandma Dowel pretty much always gets what she wants – in the end. Joey and Alice are shocked to discover that there is very little that Grandma Dowdel won’t do to get her own way. She will intimidate, blackmail, bully, lie, and steal, among other things, and she will do it all with great aplomb and not the slightest bit of regret.

What they also discover is that their large overall wearing grandmother has soft spots. She will not tolerate bullies, she does her best to help those in trouble, and in her own crusty way she takes care of the people she cares for.

In the nine years that Joey and Alice go to visit their grandmother they see their first dead body, they watch their grandma fire a shot gun, they see the sheriff in his underwear, they impersonate a ghost, the feed hungry hobos, and they “borrow” a boat to fish from.

Laugh out loud scenes and larger-than-life characters make this book a joy to read. At the same time it is thought-provoking and it paints a portrait of a very hard time in America’s history. Grandma Dowdel is a force of nature whom the reader will be compelled to admire. Surely we would all be better off if we had a Grandma Dowdel in our lives.