Certainly no endings.
Only beginnings. Three of them.
‘There were three of them, three girls.’
– Raymie Nightingale, Kate DiCamillo (2016)
This much is true. There were three girls. Right there, right from the start. In the space of two short chapters, just seven well-spaced pages, we meet the titular Raymie, and she meets Louisiana and Beverly. The Three Rancheros, as they go on to become. I should probably describe them for those of you that have somehow managed to find this blog but not find your way into this trilogy.
I am not going to. DiCamillo does that far too well to diminish here, through thought and deed – and sometimes in the voice of the character herself, as in the second book of this unintended trilogy. It it telling that the strength of the voices of these children compelled DiCamillo to return a second, and of course a third time. That in itself is a crucial marker of the quality of these books.
Do me a small favour. When it suits, find a copy of this first book. You might not even need to take a seat. Just seven spare pages that every now and then ebbs from the what-and-when of the story to the how-on-earth-and-the-why of Raymie’s inner thoughts. Fragile as they are, they steer her course as she sets about fixing a situation not of her making. DiCamillo is especially good on what it feels like to try and make out the path amidst the dust kicked up by adults. This short stretch of text should be enough of a litmus test to establish whether this trilogy is worthy of your time. If it’s not, you’re none the worse off. Just a few minutes the poorer. If it is, I almost envy you what lies ahead.
I have written more about this first book here.
‘I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? they will have an answer. They will know.
This is what happened.
I will begin at the beginning.’
– Louisiana’s Way Home, Kate DiCamillo (2018)
In this review of the second of the Three Rancheros books, I wrote this: ‘Much like E B White, DiCamillo writes for people not children. Children happen to be people.’ In DiCamillo’s books this holds just as true of her handling of her young characters. I want to emphasise this more than anything else. The interior life of children is complex and rich and its rendering should make for fascinating reading. Too often it doesn’t. Plot might flatten. Context might alienate.
Not here. Things happen. Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly notice and respond to varying degrees, quite distinctly. Distinct. Distinctive. That is the living, thinking, breathing, noticing, reacting heart of it. And it is captured or rather revealed through setting, thought, deed, dialogue and response to an entertaining and diverse cast of supporting characters. Some may stray close to caricature, but its a deceptively expert hand that shapes them firmly, fully human.
As you can see from the opening to Louisiana, here the narration is handled – somewhat breathlessly – by Louisiana herself. Something of the character spoke so insistently to DiCamillo that a second, first person airing became inevitable. I had some reservations – Raymie had been perfect (just noticing a trick of grammar there but let’s not sully the moment) and I was not sure what a sequel could add. It took less than a page to remind me that not everything needs to be fretted about. Learn to trust when you are in safe hands.
‘Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off towards Lake Clara.’
– Beverly, Right Here, Kate DiCamillo
And so here we are, my worries about sequels kicked into touch. So much so that there would have been a quiet outrage – the thought of those angry thoughts – if Beverly had not had her turn in the Florida sun. The opening above sets the tone. No fuss. No tears. Moving on.
In fact, the book itself moves on in quite striking, mortal ways. Beverly here is not the same Beverly that we came to know in the first of the books. She is older, possibly wiser, and perhaps some of the bruises that we read of in Raymie Nightingale have faded. They will have been replaced with others. There’s a new ring to the toughness that we first saw in our first meeting with Beverly.
‘ “Get up,” Ida Nee said to the girl in the pink dress.
“She fainted,” said the other baton-twirling student, a girl named Beverly Tapinski, whose father was a cop.
Raymie knew the girl’s name and what her father did because Beverly had made an announcement at the beginning of the lesson. She had stared straight ahead, not looking at anybody in particular, and said, “My name is Beverly Tapinski and my father is a cop, so I don’t think you should mes with me.”‘
It’s funny. I had actually intended to write something quite different here when I began to type up that quote. But I am sat here moved all over again. Is it the (step)dad in me? Is it the recent achievement of Grandad status and that acute awareness of growing up, and of growing something new, knowing too well that this perfectly innocent joy will have to grow up too. But there is something in revisiting that early attempt at toughness, of protective don’t-mess-with-me-ness that strikes an especially powerful note after reading the later stages of this character’s journey. Beverly has grown up in real time and she is striking out and away from those that hurt her.
As such, the book nudges further along into representing a slightly more mature read. There is a sprinkling of ‘language’ that might not make this suitable for a whole class read in the primary classroom, but I would suggest that this is just the right read for many thoughtful, observant, demanding primary readers. Just the right book for just the right child. We just need to know who that is, and when they are ready. But first comes Raymie Nightingale, then Louisiana, then this. Everything in the right place. Just as it should be.
I promised no spoilers and I have deliberately focused on beginnings. That feels right, even as we reach the end of a journey. I might just say that, in the same way that I highlighted a particular chapter in my review of Louisiana, here there is a passage of similar length, and of equal note. A single chapter, just four pages in length, that is as understated as the rest of this wholly fine book, and that somehow manages to make you feel so much, with so few words that it is simply – and now predictably- breathtaking. Then, in the following chapter, six words, 22 letters (do the maths) that pack a wallop that can only come from a writer that crafts in way that could be far too easily overlooked if we move too fast.
[Please note: I have been careful with spoilers. However, the reader in me recognises that I may well have primed you to be asking ‘Is this the chapter? Is this the line?’ and that that may well prove to be an annoying distraction. Please try to set it aside. It’s your read. Have your own thoughts and feelings, but if I somehow managed to spoil it, you have no idea how truly, albeit obliviously sorry I am.]
So no spoilers.
My mum has a peculiar habit that my brother, my sister, and I have been bound by for as long as I can remember. We aren’t allowed to say goodbye. It’s too final. And who are we too argue. It’s helpful here.
I’m assuming that that is that for these characters who have come to mean so much. It’s a peculiar thing, how each book seems to embody the character that it takes as its focus. Its partly the words, partly the content, and certainly the different takes on life and the living. But it is something more than that, that I cannot quite put into words. Each book is very much its own person. If that isn’t too odd a notion. And so, at any given time, they are living on some place, some time, somehow.
So long for now…