A year down yonder

Fans of Mary Alice Dowdel and her inimitable Grandma will rejoice in Richard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning sequel to "A Long Way from Chicago" (1998).

This time, 15-year-old Mary Alice has to stay with Grandma alone, and for a whole year. Her father has lost his job in Chicago and must move with her mother into a one-room apartment.

Being the new girl in "the hick-town school where Grandma lived" is just one of Mary's problems. Her cat, Bootsie, has been banished to the cobhouse, her clothes are worn out, there's no indoor plumbing, and Grandma insists that her unheated bedroom is good for her health.

Meanwhile, Grandma Dowdel is up to her usual scallywag tricks. There's not a snooty neighbor or a teenage prankster who can escape her homemade brand of justice, nor a friend in need who goes wanting as long as Grandma is around to shame the town into greater generosity.

Against this backdrop of Grandma's brash work ethic and curmudgeonly big-heartedness, Mary Alice comes of age, finding a new appreciation for Grandma's practical, silent brand of love, and her own fledgling writing abilities, as well as for the handsome Royce McNabb.

This story about times much harder than our own is also laugh-aloud funny. Chock full of a clear-eyed appreciation for the way things used to be, these stories about Mary Alice and her Grandma remind us that economies change, but growing up, family, and neighbors never do.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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