Louisiana Elefante is the quirkiest of the quirky, but as we will find out, she’s not simply the daughter of flying trapeze artists who died tragically. She’s not just a girl who can sing “Amazing Grace” and make mourners weep or the granddaughter of a woman who flees in the night with no explanations. She is always so much more than any single emotion when she feels it, and her voice is crystal clear.
Kate DiCamillo is a genius of voice, and not just for Louisiana. She creates the welcoming and the crabby equally well. One of my favorites in this book is a small character – there are no small parts here, people! – her friend Burke Allen’s grandfather, also called Burke Allen. He calls Louisiana “doodlebug” and accepts her as if she’s always been part of his life, offering to buy all the cakes in a raffle for her just because. “Holding on to his horse hoof gave me some comfort and courage,” Louisiana says in a difficult moment.
I keep going back to that line, because it highlights for me just how good the writing is in this book, although that maybe sounds a little crazy. It’s a small thing, but the idea that Louisiana likes this person and simultaneously thinks of him as having horse hoof hands might not work with some characters. But Louisiana is stating her reality, not throwing out criticism, and that’s what makes it perfect. It jumps out at you, but then you think, “That’s SO her!” or maybe something less dated than that if you’re cooler or hipper than I am. (I live with a teenager who is constantly reminding me how out of step with this moment I am. Groovy, I think. I am just fine with that.)
Reading these characters, you know them. They are alive in your head, even just two pages in. Sometimes it’s the details that jump out at you; sometimes it’s the awkward thought a character shares. Before long, though, I am always walking with the character, in the character – not as someone observing the story, but as someone living it.
Such a gift! Dang, Kate DiCamillo, that’s a good book.
Lousiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo