Kate DiCamillo abandons her animal friends and creates an unlikely heroine in her newest book Raymie Nightingale. At first I was disappointed in the trio of ordinary young girls who become friends one summer. Where was the brave mouse of Desperaux, the china rabbit with a soul in Edward Tulane, the typing squirrel in Flora and Ulysses.
Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana find each other at a baton-twirling class; all are planning to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and each has a reason for needing to win. Unknowingly, the three have more in common than the contest; each is missing a parent or two and not only trying to cope with the loss, but also yearning to get back to what was before.
Although Raymie never does learn how to twirl the baton, she channels Florence Nightingale from the book her school librarian gave her for the summer, and finds she can do the extraordinary – save a friend from drowning. With the help of Beverly’s street smarts and Louisiana’s flighty sensitivity, Raymie gets back her soul.
Animals do appear in the story – a yellow bird set free from its cage, a howling rabbit eared dog rescued from a dismal fate at the animal shelter, and Archie, Louisiana’s back from the dead cat – the unsung hero of the book. DiCamillo uses them to underline the theme of loss and renewal.
DiCamillo delivers a poignant tale of little girls who are brave and hopeful, but the story is really all about the power of connection and the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways. We all need that now and then.
Reviews of Other Books by Kate DiCamillo: