By Awnali Mills
Joey and his sister Mary Alice are shipped out of Chicago by their parents to spend part of the summer with their Grandma Dowdel. They are not happy because they’ve never even met her. However, it doesn’t take them long to figure out that Grandma Dowdel is not your average grandmother. She’s as big as most men, not feminine at all, squeezes every nickel until it screams, and takes no nonsense.
Not only that, but she’s cunning, loud, and a champion liar. What in the world were their parents thinking?
It doesn’t take Joey and Mary Alice long to go from worried and scared to utterly delighted. The story follows them from the summer of 1929 through (I believe) the summer of 1942. Along the way, Grandma Dowdel outwits the sheriff, the bank, and the town busybodies, all while acting like she can’t be bothered to stir herself.
I love Richard Peck. His stories are always so funny. This is an older book, published in 1998, but I hadn’t read it before. Ron McLarty does an excellent job of voicing the characters. At first, I was dismayed by the choice of an older man voicing a young boy, but as the narrator explains, he is now an old man recalling what those summers were like.
I loved how the kids started out disgruntled and scared about being shipped off to Grandma Dowdel’s house, but in the end they really looked forward to it, because there was no telling what Grandma was going to do next. And this old woman does all these things that they aren’t allowed to do! They are so delighted to take part in these schemes. She never tells them what’s going on, just expects them to figure it out and play along. There is always a sense of anticipation: what will she do next?
This is a lovely historical fiction novel. Joey mentions all the doings around Chicago, like John Dillinger’s death and the subsequent public display of his body, as well as the effects of the Depression on Grandma Dowdel’s town, like desperate drifters being pushed through town by the sheriff. It even made me teary in the end—a really good ending.
I would put this into the hands of anyone who likes a funny story, historical fiction, or who is being shipped off to a grandparent’s house for the summer.