A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder

4.0 133
by Richard Peck

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Mary Alice's childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel's sleepy Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen, and faces a whole long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with… See more details below

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Mary Alice's childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel's sleepy Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen, and faces a whole long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out . . . better not. This wry, delightful sequel to the Newbery Honor Book A Long Way from Chicago has already taken its place among the classics of children's literature.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this hilarious and poignant sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, Peck once again shows that country life is anything but boring. Chicago-bred Mary Alice (who has previously weathered annual week-long visits with Grandma Dowdel) has been sentenced to a year-long stay in rural Illinois with her irrepressible, rough and gruff grandmother, while Joey heads west with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and her parents struggle to get back on their feet during the 1937 recession. Each season brings new adventures to 15-year-old Mary Alice as she becomes Grandma's partner in crime, helping to carry out madcap schemes to benefit friends and avenge enemies. Around Halloween, for example, the woman, armed with wire, a railroad spike and a bucket of glue, outsmarts a gang of pranksters bent on upturning her privy. Later on, she proves just as apt at squeezing change out of the pockets of skinflints, putting prim and proper DAR ladies in their place and arranging an unlikely match between a schoolmarm and a WPA artist of nude models. Between antic capers, Peck reveals a marshmallow heart inside Grandma's rock-hard exterior and adroitly exposes the mutual, unspoken affection she shares with her granddaughter. Like Mary Alice, audience members will breathe a sigh of regret when the eventful year "down yonder" draws to a close. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
In this Newbery Honor book, Chicago-bred Mary Alice has been sentenced to a year-long stay in rural Illinois with her irrepressible, rough and gruff grandmother. Soon, however, she becomes Grandma's partner in crime, helping to carry out madcap schemes to benefit friends and avenge enemies. In a starred review, PW called this sequel to A Long Way to Chicago "hilarious and poignant." Ages 10-14. (Dec.)
Because of a recession in 1937, Mary Alice's family is once more in financial difficulties. Her brother Joey goes out West with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Mary Alice is sent again to her grandmother's house in a small town in Illinois. Now she is 15 years old and must attend the tiny high school where the girls are bitterly competitive. The chapters read like vignettes, offering amusing stories of the eccentric grandmother, who truly seems to enjoy getting the town in an uproar. One escapade is more outlandish than another. The one that stands out is an episode when Mary Alice gets up the nerve to ask the one handsome boy in her class to come over to help her with her math. The two are self-consciously trying to find things to say when suddenly there are shrieks from the attic and the naked postmistress comes racing down the stairs and out the door—with a live snake draped around her body. It seems that the boarder, an artist, was using the woman as a model when a snake (which grandmother encouraged to live in the rafters to keep the bird population in check) landed on the woman's body to create the chaos. "Grandma worked around her to get the front door open. With a scream and a hiss, Maxine and the snake leaped through it. They did a fast Hawaiian hula off the porch and skimmed around the snowball bushes, making for town. That's too good a show to keep to ourselves,' Grandma said." The potential boyfriend edged to the door. "Well, I probably ought to get going,' he said. But...thanks. It was a real interesting afternoon. I never saw a __' But now he was gone...and all my hopes went with him." By the end of the school year, the relationship between Mary Alice and hergrandmother has changed beyond recognition, and Mary Alice feels that she is in her true home. This kind of humor is what Peck can do so well - small-town shenanigans. He is describing a completely different world, one long past, but he certainly makes it interesting. (Sequel to a Long Way from Chicago). KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, Penguin Putnam/Dial, 130p, 99-34159, $16.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
This sequel to Newbery Honor book, A Long Way from Chicago, focuses on Mary Alice's junior year of high school and her deepening bond with her feisty Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. Mary Alice and her family are living in Chicago, where they are trying to get back on their feet after feeling the effects of the Great Depression. The most intriguing character is clearly the wise and very unconventional grandma, a Depression-era Robin Hood who continues to embarrass and outsmart locals most deserving of her tricks and to help those most needy without making them feel that she has done them a favor. Several other adult characters and a handful of classmates round out this story, including Royce McNabb, another newcomer to the community who announces at the end of the school year that he'll write to Mary Alice from the University of Illinois. In an afterward, Mary Alice returns to Grandma Dowdell's house for her wedding to Royce, which occurs during World War II. She ends the story by telling the reader, "We lived happily ever after." An odd ending to an otherwise entertaining, light read about everyday life as managed by people who survived the Great Depression. Genre: Historical/Growing-Up/Family 2000, Dial, 120 pp., $16.99. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Sheila Gullickson; Moorhead, Minnesota
Children's Literature
A Year down Yonder seems more a companion than a sequel to Peck's 1999 Newbery Honor book, A Long Way from Chicago. Peck shows his brilliance in setting up parallel structures and creating two very different books. In the first book, Joey and his younger sister, Mary Alice spend a series of summers with their cantankerous, eccentric grandmother and Joey tells the story. The second book takes place in 1927. Joey is working with the CCC planting trees out west, their father is out of work, and sixteen-year-old Mary Alice must spend a year with her grandmother enrolled in a hick school. There is continuity of place and character in both books. The small town's culture is still the same, those who are snobby have no right to be, those who have no money are rich in some way, and everyone fears Mary Alice's grandmother. Mary Alice's voice and sensibilities are different than Joey's. Her voice is softer, more poetic and inquisitive. As much as Joey loves his grandmother, his understanding comes in glimpses and never runs quite as deep as Mary Alice's perceptions. Shared history and gender has allowed Mary Alice to understand and trust her grandmother's Robin Hood style of justice. She knows the deserving always receive a big slice of pie, whether it is pecan or humble. There are still wonderful similes and colorful dialogue, especially coming from Grandma. She sums out whole stories in a vivid sentence, or two. "When I was a girl," she tells Mary Alice, "a tornado hit an outdoor band concert. It twisted the tuba player four feet into the ground like a corkscrew before we could get help to him." These are the lines that make you laugh out loud. When Mary Alice questions her grandmother about theage of an ancient woman, she answers, "You would have to cut off her head and count the rings in her neck." Soon Mary Alice begins to see, think and talk like her grandmother. From pithy, startling analyses like the time she sizes up a bully and declares, "If you are going to read minds, start with a simple one," to her las
Sequels are a tricky business. Many are pale companions to their originals. With a skillful writer such as Peck, however, sequels can shine and sparkle with new life. Such is the case with this sequel to his Newbery Honor-winning A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998/VOYA December 1998). The year is 1937, and the aftermath of the Great Depression is still being felt by the Dowdel family. Reluctantly, the Dowdels decide to send Mary Alice to live with Grandma for a year. Mary Alice barely has been able to endure summers with Grandma in the company of her older brother. How will she survive a year in this hick town by herself? Present in this hilarious tale are the requisite "villains"—young boys wreaking havoc on Halloween, snooty women who dare to leave Grandma out of their plans, and others too blind to see Grandma as a more than formidable opponent in any fight. Told in a series of interlocking stories as was the first book, the novel never loses its charming sense of humor even though the vignettes ultimately deal with important issues such as class, gossip, and friendship. This book will make an excellent read-aloud to middle school classes. History teachers might want to share a story or two from the novel as a lead-in to the discussion of the society of the Great Depression and the recession that followed. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, Dial, 144p, $16.99. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Teri Lesesne

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Richard Peck's Newbery Award-winner (Dial, 2000) is a multi-layered story of small town life spiced with humor, love, and a bit of history. Although 15-year-old Mary Alice Dowdel is none too happy when she must spend a year with Grandma Dowdel. It's 1937, and her parents are only able to afford a small room in Chicago, and her much-loved older brother, Joey, is off serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mary Alice worries about fitting in at the two-room schoolhouse, and wonders how she'll cope with her crusty, sometimes embarrassingly eccentric grandmother. Harsh Depression era realities are not ignored, but listeners will spend most of their time laughing at the way Grandma outwits a classroom bully, some Halloween pranksters, and the local D.A.R. An itinerant artist, a risqu postmistress, and a community full of memorable characters provide more laughs. After twelve months, Mary Alice feels at home in this tiny Illinois town, and has developed a new respect and abiding affection for her maverick grandmother. Lois Smith's masterful comic timing has a country flair that conveys Peck's humorous and heartwarming book perfectly. This is a must buy for every library with audiobook collections. Even high school and adult audiences will enjoy A Year Down Yonder.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library. Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Set in 1937 during the so-called "Roosevelt recession," tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn't "even have a picture show." This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with "eyes in the back of her heart." Peck's slice-of-life novel doesn't have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader's interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn't an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—"She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites"—and Mary Alice's shrewd, prickly observations: "Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city." Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

From the Publisher
"In this hilarious and poignant sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, Peck once again shows that country life is anything but boring." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Again, Peck has created a delightful, insightful tale that resounds with a storyteller's wit, humor, and vivid description." —School Library Journal

"With the same combination of wit, gentleness, and outrageous farce as Peck's Newbery Honor book, Long Way from Chicago, this sequel tells the story of Joey's younger sister, Mary Alice, 15, who spends the year of 1937 back with Grandma Dowdel in a small town in Illinois." —Booklist

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
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Penguin Group
Sales rank:
610L (what's this?)
File size:
153 KB
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


It was a September morning, hazy with late summer, and now with all the years between. Mother was seeing me off at Dearborn Station in Chicago. We'd come in a taxicab because of my trunk. But Mother would ride back home on the El. There wasn't much more than a nickel in her purse, and only a sandwich for the train in mine. My ticket had pretty well cleaned us out.

The trunk, a small one, held every stitch of clothes I had and two or three things of Mother's that fit me. "Try not to grow too fast," she murmured. "But anyway, skirts are shorter this year."

Then we couldn't look at each other. I was fifteen, and I'd been growing like a weed. My shoes from Easter gripped my feet.

A billboard across from the station read:


This was to make us think the hard times were past. But now in 1937 a recession had brought us low again. People were beginning to call it the Roosevelt recession.

Dad lost his job, so we'd had to give up the apartment. He and Mother were moving into a "light housekeeping" room. They could get it for seven dollars a week, with kitchen privileges, but it was only big enough for the two of them.

My brother Joey -- Joe -- had been taken on by the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees out west. That left me, Mary Alice. I wished I was two years older and a boy. I wished I was Joey.

But I wasn't, so I had to go down to live with Grandma Dowdel, till we could get on our feet as a family again. It meant I'd have to leave my school. I'd have to enroll in the hick-town school where Grandma lived. Me, a city girl, in a town that didn't even have a picture show.

It meant I'd be living with Grandma. No telephone, of course. And the attic was spooky and stuffy, and you had to go outdoors to the privy. Nothing modern. Everything as old as Grandma. Some of it older.

Now they were calling the train, and my eyes got blurry. Always before, Joey and I had gone to Grandma's for a week in the summer. Now it was just me. And at the other end of the trip -- Grandma.

Mother gave me a quick squeeze before she let me go. And I could swear I heard her murmur, "Better you than me."

She meant Grandma.

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