A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories

( 64 )

Overview

What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice — two city slickers from Chicago — make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town? August 1929: They see their first corpse, and he isn't resting easy.

August 1930: The Cowgill boys terrorize the town, and Grandma fights back. August 1931: Joey and Mary Alice help Grandma trespass, poach, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry — all in one day. And there's more, as Joey and ...

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Overview

What happens when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice — two city slickers from Chicago — make their annual summer visits to Grandma Dowdel's seemingly sleepy Illinois town? August 1929: They see their first corpse, and he isn't resting easy.

August 1930: The Cowgill boys terrorize the town, and Grandma fights back. August 1931: Joey and Mary Alice help Grandma trespass, poach, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry — all in one day. And there's more, as Joey and Mary Alice make seven summer trips to Grandma's — each one funnier than the year before — in self-contained chapters that readers can enjoy as short stories or take together for a rollicking good novel. In the tradition of American humorists from Mark Twain to Flannery O'Connor, popular author Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma herself, are larger than life and twice as entertaining.

A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Peck (Strays Like Us) first created the inimitable central figure of this novel in a previously published short story. Although the narrator, Joey, and his younger sister, Mary Alice, live in the Windy city during the reign of Al Capone and Bugs Moran, most of their adventures occur "a long way from Chicago," during their annual down-state visits with Grandma Dowdel. A woman as "old as the hills," "tough as an old boot," and larger than life ("We could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small"), Grandma continually astounds her citified grandchildren by stretching the boundaries of truth. In eight hilarious episodes spanning the years 1929-1942, she plots outlandish schemes to even the score with various colorful members of her community, including a teenaged vandal, a drunken sheriff and a well-to-do banker. Readers will be eager to join the trio of Grandma, Joey and Mary Alice on such escapades as preparing an impressive funeral for Shotgun Cheatham, catching fish from a stolen boat and arranging the elopement of Vandalia Eubanks and Junior Stubbs. Like Grandma Dowdel's prize-winning gooseberry pie, this satire on small-town etiquette is fresh, warm and anything but ordinary.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Each summer during the Great Depression, Joey and his sister Mary Alice board a train in Chicago and travel halfway to St. Louis to visit their grandma in a small town in Illinois. There they meet an interesting cast of characters, from the corpse of Shotgun Cheatham, to the bad Cowgill boys who blew up mailboxes and overturned outhouses, and to Vandalia Eubanks and the phantom brakeman. Every year they would learn a little more about their spunky grandmother through her unusual and intriguing interactions with the townsfolk. Peck brings the time period to life through small details, such as selecting a bottle of orange soda from a "sheet-metal vat of ice water with a bottle opener hanging down on a piece of twine," as well as via major symbols of the time such as drifters, gangsters, and that new mode of transportation, the airplane. Warmly nostalgic, beautifully written, humorous, and full of thought-provoking interpersonal relationships.
VOYA - Richard Gercken
With customary precision Peck perfectly describes his book in the subtitle: a novel in stories. Joey and his sister Mary Alice have a series of adventures on summer visits to their grandmother in a small town south of Chicago. While Grandma Dowdel is the central character, young readers will identify with her because she is a rebel at heart, described by the local sheriff as a one-woman crime wave. Grandma's crimes, on behalf of the lonely and needy, involve Joey and Mary Alice in everything from corpses rising out of their coffins to ghosts walking at night. Joey, who is nine in the first story, becomes fifteen-year-old Joe in the last one. His wry humor and shrewd observation of his elders often meet their match in his smart-talking sister as Peck depicts the gender politics between siblings. The book is filled with descriptions, insights, and glowing one-liners. The stories take place in the '30s, and Peck subtly evokes the era. He never explains anything that the characters of that time would take for granted. This book is ideal for the young person in your life who likes to read or the one that you hope will. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-When Joey and his sister Mary Alice travel from their home in Chicago to their Grandmother's small town, they don't expect the crazy adventures they encounter there. By Richard Peck. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a novel that skillfully captures the nuances of small-town life, an elderly man reminisces about his annual trips from Chicago to his grandmother's house in rural Illinois during the Depression. When the book opens, Joey and his sister, Mary Alice, nine and seven, respectively, learn that they will be spending a week every August with Grandma Dowdel. In eight vignettes, one for each summer from 1929-1935, with the final story set when Joey's troop train passes through in 1942, Peck (Strays Like Us) weaves a wry tale that ranges from humorous to poignant. Grandma Dowdel, with her gruff persona and pragmatic outlook on life, embodies not only the heart of a small town but the spirit of an era gone by. She turns the tables on a supercilious reporter from the big city, bests the local sheriff, feeds the drifters of the Depression, inspires a brawl between elderly (ancient) war heroes, and more. Peck deftly captures the feel of the times, from the sublime bliss of rooting around the ice bin at the local store for a nickel Nehi during the dog days of summer, to a thrilling flight in a biplane. Remarkable and fine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141303529
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 48,040
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.74 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
Richard Peck created Grandma Dowdel in a short story called "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground," which became the first chapter of this book.  He says, "Grandma is too sizable to be confined in a single story, to sizable and mystifying to her growing grandchildren, who in each visit discover in her a different woman."
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 64 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(37)

4 Star

(17)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    I think the book is hard to understand and boring.

    I think the book is hard to understand and boring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    My mom had read this book with my younger sisters ages 15,13, an

    My mom had read this book with my younger sisters ages 15,13, and 9.  They all loved it and would laugh at nights, as this was the story that they had chosen to read.  They story is about a funny grandma and when push comes to shove, she doesn't budge.  There are funny lines and things that happen.  There are her two grandkids that come and visit her and they are mostly quiet throughout the book and they observe a lot of what their crazy grandma does.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to laugh while reading!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Mr.Bow jangles review

    A Long Way From Chicago is a good book in my opinion, the plot of the story was humorous my favorite part of the book was when Mary alicewas dancing on the stage... When they come to visit there gandmother dowdel, they are there they get there releif from the city and they get to spend time with there mamas, but they don't always come when they want too... A Long way from Chicago was a fascinating novel to read...I am going to read the rest of the books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    A Long Way from Chicago..!

    What I think about this book, is that it is very funny. Reasons I think this book is funny, is because of the Grandma's personality. Like the time when Grandma, Joey, and Maryann was riding in a boat and saw the sheriff's dancing in their underware. OMG..! that was so funny. My favorite character was Grandma. And my favorite part was when she was shooting at her cat... But I recommend this book to anyone. A very Great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Great book read for yourself

    A Long Way from Chicago is a interesting and entertaining story. The story is about two kids named Mary Alice and Joey. They go to their fun and crazy grandmother's house every summer. At their grandmother's they experience stuff they will never forget. Over all this was a great comedy and is great for a family book or just for kids.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    A Long Way From Chicago!!!

    This book consists of three main characters grandma, Joey, and Mary Alice. The three of them together have many adventures. I liked the grandma in this book because she was so funny, she didn't care what people thought about her, she was kind to everyone. She just had a funny ways of showing it. That is what I personally think the author is trying to tell us. We should be ourselves, and also help others. I think he is saying that because someone helped him when he was in need. Read this book to learn more adventures with Grandma, Joey, and Mary!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    A Long Way from Chicago.!!

    I think that it was a very great book and I recommend it to any book reader. It was so great, I nearly died laughing at the characters. The three main characters are Joey, MaryAnn, last, but not least, my personal favorite, Grandma. She is so funny, especially the little pranks she’s always pulls on everyone. Grandma and her Grandchildren (Joey and MaryAnn) have great and fantastic adventures. Like the time when they were rolling down the river, and saw a bunch of men singing and dancing around in their underwear....OMG! That was so hilarious. My favorite scene was when Grandma's Tom cat hoped out of the coffin and freaked everybody out, as Grandma was shooting her shotgun like crazy making people run away in all different directions. But this book is a very tremendous book. It will have you rolling on the floor laughing. So I strongly recommend anyone to read this book, I enjoyed it very much myself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    It was a realey good book love it

    The reason why I liked it because it was a action filled book but it had times that it was a serious book. The really interesting moments with gradma dowdel shooting the casket with her winchester. This is why I liked the book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    i believe this is the BEST!!! Book I have ever watched.........................

    A Long Way from Chicago was a excellent book. It was funny, dramatic, like when Grandma shot the coffin after it had moved. The story was dramatic due to the awkward moments in the story. When grandma knew that those boys were going to break in she pretended that she left. Then the boys got what was coming to them.I liked the story because of all the great story's,like how the story was produced. rote,and how it was structered.The story had its off and on moments. when they got on the Blue Bird train.On there way back to chicago, at the end of the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    A long way from chicago

    This book, A Long Way From Chicago is really good. I read it with my class and it is hilarious and also very good. The setting takes place in a small farm town in Illinois. It is about a grandma that was really weird and did go crazy at times but she had really good reasons, she can also be kinda scary but friendly and trust worthy. The one thing I do know about her is SHE HAS A SHOT GUN AND KNOWS HOW TO USE IT!. But she does make a very good goose berry pie. Mary Alice and Joey Dowdel visits Grandma every summer in Illinois on a small farm just off Main street. In the end Mary Alice and Joey have made many memories. I know I liked this book and I hope you do, too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    Not a favorite

    The book was well written just not a story that I could really get into to.

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  • Posted February 3, 2012

    A long way from chicago

    A Long Way From Chicago


    A Long Way From Chicago was a really good book and I really enjoyed it. This book has everything from funniness to sadness. I loved the characters Joey, Mary Alice, and Grandma Dowdel. This book is about Joey and his sister Mary Alice who go to their Grandma Dowdel’s house nine times over nine years. I liked the entire story but the funniest part was when Grandma Dowdel took that old Winchester Shotgun and fired a hole into that wooden coffin! But the saddest part was when Joey sent a telegram to Grandma Dowdel saying “I will be coming though on a troop train watch for me”. The town was dark but every light in Grandma’s house was glowing and there she was waving and I waved back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    A GREAT BOOK!!!

    A Long Way From Chicago is a,in my mind,a very good book.I found the plot of the story interesting,and funny. One of my faveorite parts of the book had to be when the main character and narrator,Joey,Mary Alice,and Grandma Dowdel where poaching and saw the sheriffs in thier underwear.That was also when Joey stated that Mary Alice's eyes"Bugged out".The chapters were short and single stories,and I found them very easy to read.I think A long Way From Chicago is a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    I recommend this book to everyone.

    A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO. A long way from chicago was a excellent book it was funny,dramtic,like when grandma shot the coffinafter it had (moved). The story was dramtic due to the ackward moments in the story.Like when grandma knew that those boys were going to break in,so she pretened that she left,and then the boys got what was coming to them.I liked the story because of all the great storys,like how the story was produced ,wrote,and how it was structered.The story had its off and on moments .Like when grandma alledgley forgot to drown the kittin,and it randomly apperaed in the kids clothes baske,when they got on the Blue Bird train.On there way back to chicago, at the end of the story.......................

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    Great Book to Read!!!

    I absolutely love this book. It made me laugh. I certainly favored the character Grandma Dawdell. She is funny and outgoing. I loved when Granny went to the county fair with her grandkids, Mary Alice and Joey. Granny Dawdell was always getting what she wanted by playing tricks on other people. Joey wanted to ride on an airplane very bad...and she found a creative way to help him with his adventure. If you are loooking for your own adventure you must read, A Long Way from Chicago!

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  • Posted July 3, 2011

    not a really bad book, but...

    In 1929, nine-year-old Joey Dowdel and his seven-year-old sister Mary Alice, who live in Chicago, IL, make the first of seven annual trips to spend a week with their Grandma Dowdel in southern Illinois, somewhere between Chicago and St. Louis, MO, during summer vacation. Each chapter covers one year's visit. And in those years, Joey and Mary Alice get to see and help Grandma give a funeral for Shotgun Cheatham, the town reprobate; get even with the Cowgill boys for their vandalism; trap catfish to feed the traveling unemployed men hit hard by the Depression; try to win the pie contest at the county fair; assist Vandalia Eubanks and Junior Stubbs to elope and get married ala Romeo and Juliet style; use the local rummage sale to keep Mrs. Elsie Wilcox's house from being foreclosed; and observe the town's centennial celebration.
    The year 1935 was the last visit because Joey was fifteen and the next year would be in line for a summer job in Chicago. However, there is a final chapter, almost an "afterword," for 1942 when he was going into the air corps to fight in World War II, and passed by Grandma Dowdel's house on the train. The idea of "A Novel in Stories" is that the plot progresses in a series of short stories. The first chapter actually had appeared as a short story in Twelve Shots: Stories About Guns edited by Harry Mazer in 1997. I first heard of this book through Scholastic and Children's Book of the Month clubs. But what I heard did not necessarily impress me. Of course, Scholastic and Children's B.M.O.C. both try to make the books they sell sound as good as possible, and their synopsis of A Long Way from Chicago was, "Grandma Dowdel lies, cheats, trespasses, and wakes up her sleepy little town-always for a good cause." To me, it did not sound very good. It was a Newbery Honor book in 1999, and its sequel, A Year Down Yonder, in which Mary Alice has been sent to spend the whole 1937-1938 school year with Grandma Dowdel while Joey is out West planting trees through a government work program, won the Newbery Medal in 2001. This does not surprise me, as being a Newbery winner nowadays does NOT mean that a book is good, or even fit to read for that matter. Grandma Dowdel returns in the year 1958, without Joey and Mary Alice, in a later book A Season of Gifts.
    It is true that there is a great deal of humor in the situations found in the book, but to see the humor one must overlook the fact that Grandma tells lies (some of which are described as whoppers), brews her own beer during prohibition, sets illegal fish traps, flaunts the law (even though the law in this case is somewhat less than perfect), cheats at the pie contest, and starts false rumors. In examining the book from a Biblical worldview, it has been suggested that one's view of the book will depend on his personal viewpoint on seeing humor in actions that are not always above reproach. I think that the underlying basis of the book may be encapsulated by the statement, "It was a story that grew in the telling in one of those little towns where there's always time to ponder all the different kinds of truth." Rather than a search for absolute truth, even in fiction, the idea of "different kinds of truth" sounds more like humanistic relativism. Also, when Joey asks Grandma about the punishment for setting illegal traps, she replies, "Nothin' if you don't get caught," which Joey concludes "was an example of the way Grandma reasoned." All in all, this

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  • Posted May 18, 2011

    Perfect title for summer reading for the tween crowd

    A Long Way from Chicago tells the story of a brother and sister who spend one week of each summer with their grandma who lives in a small town that seems miles from Chicago. Each chapter tells an outrageous story from their stay in one year. My kids loved the stories and begged me to read just one more. The chapters are about twenty pages each, though the last one is only two pages and will grab your heart.

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  • Posted March 26, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing and exciting

    A book that our ELA class is reading as our 7th novel. This is probably the best book we read. We read Crispin, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Westing Game, Bridge to Terabithia, Amos Fortune, and A Long Way From Chicago. When we have to read this book for homework, the excitement and curiosity forces me go on to next page and soon chapters. Grandma Dowdel is a kind of scary but friendly and trusty character. She has a shotgun and knows how to use it, but she also makes delicious gooseberry pies. I would recommend this novel to everyone. It is wonderful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2010

    A Teens Review Fantastic book

    A Long Way from Chicago is a great book because it is funny, entertaining, and interesting. I couldn't stop reading it. This book is about two kids named Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel.
    Joey narrates the story, he shares the experiences of visiting his thrifty, hardworking, crazy grandmother. She is different than most grandmothers; she does alot of things a usual grandma would never do. Such as go fishing, hunting and making soap. The story takes place during The Great Depression. Mary Alice and Joey go to visit every summer.
    The three of them together have some great adventures. Some might even suprise you. I liked the grandma in this book because she was so funny, she didn't care what people thought about her, she was kind to everyone. She just had a funny was of showing it.
    That is what I personally think the author is trying to tell us. We should be ourselves, and also help others. I think he is saying that because someone helped him when he was in need. Read this book to learn more adventures with Grandma,Joey and Mary!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A long satisfying look back.

    I purchased this book because my son and I had read A Year Down Yonder for a class assignment. A book we both enjoyed. This collection of stories takes place before A Year Down Yonder and sets the stage with flair and depth. The character of Grandma Dowdel is crusty but lovable, once you see through her no nonsense demeanor. Her grandchildren Joey and Mary Alice bring their big city Chicago ways to the very rural Piatt County. Grandma's town is filled with quirky and curious individuals. Each short story gives a peek at a time gone by and the people and personalities who persevered through wars and depression to leave their lasting hold on America. Each story contains a life lesson and a fair dash of high jinx and humor. I strongly recommend this read for children ages 8 and up and for their parents too.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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