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I wish Kate DiCamillo had started writing ten years earlier. Then I would have been able to enjoy her books when I was in the target audience instead of waiting until I was old enough to start reading kids books again. Even so, I'm very much enjoying getting to know her writing now.

I first read The Tale of Despereaux with an English student of mine in Japan several years ago. We both really enjoyed it, but I hadn't picked up any more by Kate DiCamillo until a couple months ago when I listened to the audio book of Because of Wynn Dixie (read by Cherry Jones). I was utterly charmed by her distinct and memorable characters.

I found the same wonderful ability to bring characters to life in her most recent book, Raymie Nightingale.
I listened to this one as well, beautifully read by Jenna Lamia (great casting Listening Library!)

Official blurb:
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I have to say, I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Not because I didn't have high expectations, but because normally "unlikely friendships" aren't really my thing. However, DiCamillo vividly brings to life the individual personalities of each character and pulls the reader into the girls' stories. The overall story is rather simple, Raymie is sad her father left and thinks that if she can somehow show him she's important, he'll come back to her. But along the way the plot itself loses importance beneath the experiences each girl—Raymie, Beverly, Louisiana—has and the things they learn from one another.

Raymie Nightingale is a beautiful, sad, and uplifting story. While the individual characters can be a little too absurd to believe (especially Louisiana), their experiences and feelings are believable and easy to identify with, and I think the absurdity adds to the charm. As Raymie deals with things she's never encountered before (loss, death, poverty), she asks questions that we all wonder. I love that DiCamillo doesn't shy away from big questions that might not have happy answers, or sometimes might not have answers at all; and while the story does end on a happy note, it's not a trite fairy tale wrap-up where nobody is dead after all and everyone is together again. All in all, a lovely read (or, listen).

Jenna Lamia does a wonderful job with voices and accents. I love her Louisiana Elefante.

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