Raymie Nightingale was all about souls and friendship and finding a purpose in life. It was for kids. I kept thinking ‘this is so metaphysical; will kids get it’? And the answer is—YES! Of course, Kate DiCamillo knows how to write a book kids will love and understand. For some reason I always think of DiCamillo as the Marilynne Robinson for kids; a soothing balm for an aching soul. For Robinson, her characters have to deal with an adult world, and DiCamillo deals with anything from the ordeals of a mouse named Despereaux, to a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, to a ten-year-old girl whose father has left her for a dental hygienist.
“The world went on. People left and people died and people went to memorial services and put orange blocks of cheese into their purses. People confessed to you that they were hungry all the time. And then you got up in the morning and pretended that none of it had happened.”
Raymie Nightingale has lost her father to a dental hygienist. She is sad, and she wants her dad back. She decides to compete in the Miss Central Florida Tire competition, in hopes that if she wins, her picture would be in the paper, her father would see it, and he would come home. Far reaching hopes only a ten- year- old would dream up, but her intentions quickly stray as she meets two other fellow competitors: Beverly and Louisiana.
The two other girls have their own hopes and problems. Beverly has had to compete in beauty competitions before, and is determined to sabotage this event. Louisiana lives with her grandma who can’t afford to feed her. Her parents were the Flying Elefante’s, but they both drowned when their ship sank. (this story was most likely made up by Louisiana’s grandma, and we never learn the true story of her parents disappearance) Louisiana also has a hard time breathing and had to give up her cat Archie to the animal shelter, because they could afford to feed it anymore. Like Raymie, Beverly’s dad does not live with her, and Beverly has tried to run away to be with him. Beverly’s mom hit her after one of these attempts.
So right about now Raymie’s situation ain’t lookin’ so bad, right?
But Raymie isn’t terribly winey, and she understands her friends are in worse shape than herself, which is what saves Raymie. Raymie’s looking for answers. Like anyone who has to undergo a huge life change, it’s normal to start wondering what it’s all about.
“’Mrs. Borkowski, who lived across the street from Raymie and who was very, very old, said that most people wasted their souls.
‘How do they waste them?’ Raymie had asked.
‘They let them shrivel,’ said Mrs. Borkowski. ‘Phhhtttt.’”
So what will fill up Raymie’s soul? What does her soul crave more than anything else?
Well, I’ll only say this: she finds it, which– lucky her, because that’s a hard thing to find, and she found it at ten!
Every DiCamillo book I’ve read has been a solid read. Just to put it in perspective I’ve read The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Now, I’ll be honest; I’ve read all of these books because I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane first. That’s DiCamillo’s Gilead (see above for Robinson comparison). It’s beautiful, and it’s all about a china rabbit. But read some of these words:
“You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.”
“I have been loved, Edward told the stars. So? said the stars. What difference does that make when you are all alone now?”
“Look at me, he said to her. His arms and legs jerked. Look at me. You got your wish. I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me. The old woman turned and hobbled away. Come back, thought Edward. Fix me”
“But in truth,’ said Bull, ‘we are going nowhere. That my friend, is the irony of our constant movement.”
“I have learned how to love. And it’s a terrible thing. I’m broken. My heart is broken. Help me.”
Okay, I’ll stop now before I end up copying the whole book down. It’s wonderful, and no matter how old you are you should definitely pick it up and read it.
Now about Raymie Nightingale. No DiCamillo book has ever compared to Edward Tulane. Raymie was good, it was a fast read, but it felt like it was missing pieces. I think the intention was to concentrate on Raymie finding her place after her father left, but nothing ever really became of the whole beauty competition (I think I was hoping for a Little Miss Sunshine thing), and the three girls stole their baton twirling instructor’s baton, but then that kind of just fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking), and there was just a lot she built up, and then just left out of the ending. I love stories of friendship, and DiCamillo has a deft pen, so you know you’re going to be reading quality writing when you pick up one of her books, but I think, deep down, I’m just looking for another Edward Tulane.