Thursday, December 5, 2013
Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
It all begins the way superhero tales normally do: a freak accident endows somebody with superpowers. In this case, "somebody" is a squirrel who gets vacuumed up by an ultra-powerful vacuum cleaner, the Ulysses 2000X, and when resuscitated by the main character, Flora, has become a squirrel that has can lift large objects, understand English, and write poetry. Flora believes it's her mission to help the squirrel, whom she names Ulysses, to fulfill his destiny and vanquish his arch-nemesis. But what if his arch-nemesis turns out to be Flora's mother?
This book is filled with quirky characters, including Flora, who is a self-described cynic (which we learn is how she deals with the pain of her parents' divorce), both her parents, the neighbor lady who received the vacuum as a birthday gift from her husband, and the great-nephew she watches, a boy Flora's age who is temporarily blind due to family trauma of his own. Quirky isn't normally my taste, really, and you have to suspend disbelief to accept this many characters who are this quirky in one small geographical area (and two kids, ages ten and eleven, who can use such big words), but the good writing and the charm and the humor and the underlying poignancy drew me in and held me fast. You just might have to be Kate DiCamillo to pull this off, and she does. Recommended.