Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. April 12, 2016. Candlewick Press. 272 pages. Ages 10-13.
Raymie Clarke's father has just abandoned her and her mother to run off with a dental hygienist. But, Raymie has a plan to get him back. She decides that she must enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant. Surely if her father sees her picture in the paper as Little Miss Central Florida Tire he will be so proud of her that he will come home.
But to win, she needs a talent, which brings her to Miss Ida Nee's house for baton twirling lessons where she meets two other girls, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. The three girls couldn't be more different! Louisiana is very girly, a bit spacey, and prone to fainting. Beverly is tough as nails, has a bad attitude, and is surprisingly skilled at baton twirling. Raymie is a bit shy and serious, but determined, and has a unique skill that comes in handy in the end.
Each of the girls has a very different reason for being in the competition, but despite their differences the three become friends through a series of misadventures and rescues, eventually revealing their secrets to the others.
When I first read the blurb on the jacket, my first thought was 'Oh, great, another "Little Miss Sunshine", but it turned out to be a very different story after all. Although it seemingly starts out about family with Raymie's decision to enter the contest being spurred by her father's running off with another woman, it is really about friendship and finding your inner strength.
The story is fairly fast-paced with alternately bittersweet and humorous moments as each of the girls gradually reveals the darker truths of their lives as they bond during their series of misadventures. I liked how they gradually became friends, growing to appreciate their differences and realizing that they complemented each other perfectly, despite their first impressions. I also appreciated how in the end, two of the girls realized that their agendas were not realistic and that the third girl had a very real need to win the contest.
I would recommend this book to fans of the author's previous books, though they are all quite different, and for any younger middle-grade readers who enjoy books about unlikely friendships and adventures, or who might be looking for something that has to do with divorce and/or parental abandonment. Fans of the Fancy Nancy and Ivy + Bean chapter books would be likely to enjoy this one as well.
Other Books By This Author
Kate DiCamillo has written several other well-known and award-winning middle grade books, such as Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tales of Despareux, and Flora And Ulysses, as well as the beginning chapter series Bink & Gollie and Mercy Watson, and more.