Raymie Nightingale, Kate DiCamillo
We’re already here! The final installation of my top reads from last year! That went quickly! But before we wrap up completely there’s room for just one more book from none other than the great Kate DiCamillo. Earlier in this series, we looked at Louisiana's Way Home which was a follow up to the book we’re covering now: Raymie Nightingale. True to DiCamillo’s writing style, the story is a sweet beginning to the friendships explored in her other connected books.
What’s the Book?
Raymie Clarke is a young girl who’s father just ran off with the Dental hygienist in their Florida small town. Determined to bring him back, she enters the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition in the hopes that he will see her picture in the paper and come back home. She’s smart and capable so there shouldn’t be anything to it, but there are two problems: Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante. Beverly Tapinski, the bitter, wildly independent rebel who would rather watch the world burn than be told what to do. Louisiana Elefante, the flighty, whimsical, sensitive soul who believes in everyone and everything for better or worse. It’s hard to imagine two greater opposites to collide with the determined and unsure Raymie Clarke.
The more time Raymie spends with these unlikely friends, the more her sense of order and dependability is disrupted until she’s forced to wonder if she had any say in anything in the first place. Before long, Raymie is forced to ask herself if she had any control to begin with and if there are some things you just can’t fix.
Why It’s A Top Ten
We may not like to admit it, but the unpleasant things of the world can find us at tender young ages. We try to push them away or hide from them, but none of us are immune to the hurts of this world. In Raymie Nightingale, DiCamillo puts that struggle on full display without holding back. For the child reader, it’s a call of camaraderie. You’re not alone in this. Others have felt this way. For the adult reader, it’s a tender reminder of all the struggles they faced in their own childhood, even if Raymie’s situation is foreign to them.
Dicamillo has an incredible skill for exploring themes of pain and loneliness without ever leaving her readers feeling hopeless. One way she does this is through the characters she chooses to represent these struggles. Raymie may have gone through a lot, but she doesn’t take it out on others and looks for ways to help those around her. Her loneliness is on display in the way she always hesitates and is simply unsure how to move forward even as she’s trying to take responsibility for everything around her.
For all the big questions she finds herself asking, Raymie is still a child and the innocence with which she approaches the problem of trying to get her dad back reads with heartbreaking clarity. Her solutions are big and wild, but to her, they make absolute sense and won’t fail her like her dad did. When she does feel disillusioned, it’s usually because she’s worried about one of her friends being let down the same way she was. Her compassion and kindness as a character create a framework that’s incredibly touching to explore loneliness and heartache.
The other method is the quirky, upbeat pace of her writing style. DiCamillo may be tackling big, heartbreaking topics, but she never lets that slow down the pace of her character’s adventures. True to her style, Raymie and her new friends are put through all the normal paces of childhood, finding all sorts of hijinks that seem as impossible to get out of as they were to get in. Whether it’s accidentally creating chaos at a nursing home, breaking into a baton-twirling instructor’s house, or hunting for a cat who disappeared in less than ideal circumstances, Raymie’s big questions unfold to a backdrop of childhood antics that blend together into a bittersweet feeling of closure by the book’s end.
The world may become a harder place the more we grow up, but there are so many wonderful moments to pull us through along the way. In Raymie Nightingale, DiCamillo encourages readers of all ages not to forget the power of those little moments in helping us forge something new and beautiful out of the heartbreak we’ve been handed.