Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5
A Year Down Yonder, the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, is narrated by Mary Alice. When she is 15, her father loses her job. Because her parents can only afford a small room, Mary Alice moves in with her grandmother and continues her education in the school there. As in the previous book, many shenanigans ensue as Mary Alice’s grandmother goes about her eccentric life, bringing chaos in her wake.
The cliquey local girls reject Mary Alice, but her own ingenuity combined with her grandmother’s sly wit stop bullies in their tracks and eventually gain Mary Alice grudging acceptance. In an incident reminiscent of the Cowgill foray, local kids are destroying outhouses (the only bathrooms available) ahead of Halloween. Grandma Dowdel’s is one of the last left standing. She intends to keep it that way. To that end, she strings a trip wire up, then hides in the outhouse with a giant vat of industrial strength glue. When the culprits appear, the trip wire functions as intended and the boys get a good dousing in glue. Mary Alice describes the culprit: “His head had been shaved and his scalp scabbed raw, beginning to scab. His bandaged nose was splayed all over his face”. Grandma proceeds to cut the pie with the boy’s own knife, lost in the skirmish; his father realizes what is going on and cracks that the boy picked the wrong privy to mess with.
From trapping animals for pelts on other people’s land to hitting a neighbour’s pecan tree with his tractor to cause the nuts to fall after she was told only to collect the ones on the ground, Grandma finds a way to get what she wants. However, she also engages in sweet acts like secretly making Mary Alice a halo after Mary laments that the angel costume is better than her Virgin Mary one. My favorite, though, was Grandma choosing to spend most of her trapping money on train tickets to bring Joey back to IL for Christmas and shipping both kids up to Chicago to be with their parents for the holiday.
Although the initial adjustment is challenging, Mary Alice comes to see her grandmother as a kindred spirit. When her parents are able to support Mary Alice again after her year with her grandmother, Mary Alice asks to stay with her grandma, a request which is rejected. In the epilogue, Mary Alice chooses to get married in the town, even though only her grandmother will attend.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The students probably thought I was crazy, as parts of this got me laughing out loud when they were in the vicinity. The author wraps up the duology nicely. I highly recommend this for kids starting at 2nd or 3rd grade, particularly those who enjoy pranks and humor.