Sunday, July 17, 2016

Raymie...Clarke? or Nightingale? Perhaps both!

Rarely does a book title draw me in as this one did.
Raymie. I have never heard this name before. Raymie.
And then Nightingale. There had to be some symbolism there, amIright?
And beyond the title? The author--Kate DiCamillo! 
This had to be a winner!
by Kate DiCamillo
So...this was no Flora & Ulysses. Definitely no raucous 
laugh-out-loud humor as I found in Flora & Ulysses
Though I did chuckle alot and laugh a few times...
But there was much poignancy and some real-life angst, 
as well as well-intentioned life-changing strategies and plans.
You can also read the Book Riot review here.

Three girls gather at Ida Nee's house for their first baton-twirling lesson. 
One can already twirl a baton, one helps her grandmother steal food, 
and one is determined to have her family back.
Though they may seem an unlikely trio of 'misfits,' they eventually become the 
"Three Rancheros," determined to perform 'good deeds.' But first...let's meet them!
And then the girl...let out a sob and said. "The more I think about it, 
the more terrified I am. I am too terrified to go on!"
The girl clutched the baton to her chest and dropped to her knees.
Raymie stared at her in wonder and admiration.
She herself often felt too terrified to go on, but she had never admitted it out loud. (2)
So very much said with so few words! My immediate thought? That girl's quite the actor!
And Raymie's "wonder" and "admiration"! Love those words. Just perfect!
What one of us has NOT felt at some point in our lives, especially our younger years,
 "too terrified to go on"?
"Stop this nonsense immediately," said Ida Nee.
Ida Nee was the baton twirling instructor. Even though she was old--over fifty at least...
She wore white boots that came all the way up to her knees. 
"I'm not kidding," said Ida Nee.
Raymie believed her. Ida Nee didn't seem like much of a kidder. (2) 
Okay, that got a chuckle out of me! (And really, is fifty all that old? Thinks someone who is in their 60's! lol) But what, exactly, has these two children so terrified, you may ask? 
[Just] two days before...Raymie Clarke's father had run away from home 
with a woman who was a dental hygienist. (3)
Awww...poor Raymie! How disturbing and disruptive for her! A "great tragedy," according her mother. 
Sometimes the pain in her heart made her feel too terrified to go on. 
Sometimes it made her want to drop to her knees. 
But then she would remember that she had a plan. (4)
And it is quite the plan...
There wasn't time for people fainting. She had to learn how to twirl a baton 
and she had to learn fast, because if she learned how to twirl a baton, 
then she stood a good chance of becoming Little Miss  Central Florida Tire.
And if she became Little Miss Central Florida Tire, 
her father would see her picture in the paper and come home. 
That was Raymie's plan. (7)
Tears came to my eyes when I read this. This poor sweet little innocent, naive girl... heart went out to her right then! And you know what? Honestly, I hoped she succeeded in her heartfelt "plan." 

Unfortunately for Raymie, Louisiana, who comes "from a show-business background," what with her parents being a part of a circus act called "the Flying Elefantes." (Yes, 'elefante' is definitely close to 'elephant,' is it not? I did chuckle at the vision of the 'elephant' trapeze act this fostered in my imagination! :)) Louisiana is currently bemoaning her sense of betrayal to the 'family cat,' Archie, since they had to leave him at the Very Friendly Animal Center where he would be fed and well cared for, per her Grandmother. They couldn't afford to feed him any longer, as they barely had any food for themselves. But...Louisiana also...has a plan... 
"I've entered the Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 contest, and I'm going to win that 
one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars and save myself from the county home 
and get Archie back from the Very Friendly Animal Center and never be terrified again." (20-21)
With this money she intends to purchase tuna fish since it is "high in protein" and therefore, good for her "swampy lungs." Her grandmother roars up in an old station wagon, shouting,
"Hurry!...Marsha Jean is somewhere close behind. I'm certain of it. 
I can feel her malevolent presence." (26)
Uhm...alrighty then! Oh, my! Poor Louisiana! My heart also went out to her! 

But then, Beverly, the third member of this trio of baton-twirling-wannabes, slashes her pocketknife through the air, stating her intention to "sabotage the contest," since she hates "spangly things." :) As Raymie is completing her Miss Central Florida Tire application, she idly wonders if Beverly must actually enter the contest so she can sabotage it... :) Another chuckle from me... Though Beverly obviously has reasons for her anger, as she states that in the past, her mother has entered her into more of those contests than she can count.

Throughout the book, Raymie imparts bits and pieces of information given to her through the years by her elderly neighbor, Old Mrs. Borkowski. 
Old Mrs. Borkowski said all the time that the sun could not be relied on.
"What is the sun?" said Mrs. Borkowski. "I will tell you. 
The sun is nothing but a dying star. Someday, it will go out. Phhhhtttt." 
Phhhhtttt was actually something that Mrs. Borkowski said often and about a lot of things. (22)
Okay, that did make me laugh! And I could relate to Raymie's close relationship with this older female neighbor. After my first child was born, I would take him down to visit with my neighbor who was in her late 80's; none of her children lived very close nor visited her very often. She actually taught me how to raise African Violets and gave me my first plant starts! Though I believe she was much more pleasant overall than was Mrs. Borkowski! For instance, I cannot recall her ever saying "Pfffftttt"...not even once! However, I never trimmed my neighbor's toenails as Raymie did for Mrs. Borkowski, since she couldn't reach her feet and therefore never tied her shoes either. That Raymie is a sweetheart, isn't she? 

Raymie's mother appears to be in a state of shock. In addition to Old Mrs. Borkowski, Raymie also has a relationship with Mrs. Sylvester, the secretary at her father's insurance office. She calls and talks with her periodically. It is Mrs. Sylvester who suggests she read to residents at the Golden Glen Nursing Home as her "good deed" to include in her Miss Central Florida Tire application. In her room, she selects the library book, A Bright and Shining Path: The Life of Florence Nightingale, for this task. (Note the last name--Nightingale--she saved lives. :)) In going to the nursing home, Raymie decides to walk rather than ride her bike, so that she could "flex her toes and isolate her objectives," just as Lifesaving 101 coach, Mr. Staphopoulos had taught her to do. He believed
that flexing your toes cleared your mind and that once your mind was clear, 
it was easy to isolate your objectives and figure out what to do next. 
For instance: save whoever was drowning. (58)
I seriously wonder if this works. I intend to try it. I'll let you know the results! :)

Raymie ends up losing her library book at the nursing home and is relying upon Beverly to help her get it back, just as Louisiana is also relying upon Beverly...and Raymie to help rescue Archie from the Very Friendly Animal Center. Why Beverly? Because of Beverly's statement:
Fear is a big waste of time. I'm not afraid of anything. (79)
It was quite different for Raymie who would periodically try to 
rearrange her soul, working to make it invisible. (81)
Ah, poor Raymie! She just feels so insignificant, doesn't she? Though when she's happy she can feel her soul growing and becoming lighter, but when she's sad, it "shrinks." Then drama begins at the second baton-twirling lesson...
...Ida Nee cam marching toward them, her white boots glowing and her baton flashing.
She had on a spangled top that sparkled like fish scales. Her hair was very yellow.
She looked like a mermaid in a bad mood. (82)
Yes. I couldn't help it. I just had to laugh at that "mermaid in a bad mood" vision! Though Ida attacks Beverly, hitting her on the head with her baton and Louisiana launches herself upon Ida Nee and holds on for dear life. It is apparent someone has already hit Beverly, evident by the bruise under her left eye. We later learn it was her own mother who hit her... :(

Raymie is amazed to learn that Beverly's father is a cop, but a cop who lives and works in New York City! Beverly doesn't "have a father," either, just like Raymie! Though Beverly plans to move to New York as soon as she can--she has already run away twice, once even reaching Atlanta! This revelation is made while they're at Louisiana's house, currently without electricity due to no money. Beverly has left the room...
"I think her heart is broken," said Louisiana.
Raymie's soul shrank further.
"Beware of the brokenhearted," said the grandmother, "for they will lead you astray."
Outside, it started to rain even harder.
"That's all of us, though, Granny, isn't it?" said Louisiana over the noise of the rain.
"Aren't we all brokenhearted?" (132)
These three unlikely misfits help each other cope with their broken hearts and do good deeds as "the Three Rancheros"! 

Old Mrs. Borkowski dies and while at her funeral, Raymie is upset, but Louisiana appears by her side and hugs her while she cries. 
"Shhhh," said Louisiana. She patted Raymie on the back..."I'm sorry for your loss."
Raymie heard the squeaky sound of air entering and exiting Louisiana's swampy lungs...
"There, there," said Louisiana. "You just keep crying." 
Her lungs squeaked and her bunny barrettes made clicking sounds each time she patted Raymie's back...Raymie would have thought that there would be no comfort to be had from someone as 
insubstantial as Louisiana holding her, but it was actually very comforting, 
even with all the barrettes and lung wheezing. (148)
Unfortunately, Louisiana's grandmother was there to steal some food for them. Unwittingly, Louisiana leaves the auditorium through an emergency exit, setting off the alarm, but further aiding her grandmother's escape, avoiding apprehension! 

And so it is that through calamity and chaos: a runaway grocery cart with a girl and dog, a swimming dog, a girl who cannot swim, a girl just rescued from drowning, a hospital stay, a Little Miss Central Florida 1975 contest winner, and a trip to the top of Belknap Tower, that Raymie Clarke, Beverly Tapinski, and Louisiana Elefante truly do become "the Three Rancheros" and love and support each other as true friends do. Oh, and Archie. How could I forget about Archie? :)
This is definitely one for my grandchildren to own and read.
Have you read any of DiCamillo's books?
I find her writing style to be unique and touching. 

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