Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000.
Mary Alice’s childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel’s sleepy Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen, and faces a whole long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out… better not.
This book is a sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, but I honestly didn’t even know that there was a previous book. It works just fine as a stand-alone, which is important to consider when suggesting books to children. For some series, you really need to read the books in order or you won’t understand things. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading and knowing you’re missing something important that was in a previous book.
A Year Down Yonder, the Newbery Award winner for 2001, starts off slow… and doesn’t pick up much speed as it goes on. The pace of the novel was much like the town in which it’s set: “sleepy” is the perfect description! But that worked because the novel is historical (set in late 1937 and early 1938), and life had a slower pace back then. It was an interesting contrast with Bud, Not Buddy, which was set in the same decade in Michigan but was paced faster like the jazz music that was its theme.
Overall I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. There were a lot of little stories that were only thinly connected, and I prefer books with a bigger overarching storyline. They were interesting, but nothing grabbed my attention and refused to let go. With most books there is a point where you hit escape velocity – it’s that moment in the story where you can’t bear to be interrupted, you just have to read straight through to the end. Neptune’s Children is a great example of escape velocity. I didn’t get that feeling with A Year Down Yonder, but it was still enjoyable.