Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

I think somebody might have recommended this book to me at one point.  If not, then I read it entirely based upon a misconception.  I read and loved A Day No Pigs Would Die when I was in junior high, and I fully thought up until moments of writing this post that Richard Peck was the author of both that and this.  As it turns out, Robert Newton Peck was the author of A Day No Pigs Would Die (now I remember!), and this Richard character is a totally different guy.

Good news, my failure to differentiate between authors came out all right in the end as I'm sure I'll remember A Long Way from Chicago equally as fondly.

Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel are growing up in Chicage during the 1930s, the age of gangsters, bank robbers, and the Great Depression.  One would think they would see all there was to see in Chicago, but as it turns out, their more interesting life experiences come from the week they spend with their grandmother in a small town south of Chicago each summer.  According to a much older Joey looking back on those life-altering August weeks, Grandmas was as large as life, if not larger.

Now I'm older than Grandma was then, quite a bit older.  But as the time gets past me, I seem to remember more and more about those hot summer days and nights, and the last house in town, where Grandma lived.  And Grandma.  Are all my memories true?  Every word, and growing truer with the years.

A Long Way from Chicago consists of a short story for each year that Joey and Mary Alice visit Grandma.  Each year, the kids grow up a little more and grow to understand Grandma a little better.  Each year, Grandma's antics make for the kind of family stories that become almost mythical in the telling and re-telling.  With a strong sense of justice, a veiled capacity for kindness, and a clever way of putting people in their place when they need it and helping people out when they can't help themselves, Grandma proves herself to be nothing if not a person of action.  As Joey and Mary Alice grow older they go from not quite knowing what to expect from their stern, practical grandma to always expecting that she'll be up to something.

A Long Way from Chicago is an immensely enjoyable little book about a grandma that's tough as nails on the outside but, on the inside, is the sort of decent and resourceful ally you'd want in your corner.  It's obvious that beneath her rough exterior she loves both her grandchildren fiercely.  Whether you're young or old you'll get a kick out of Grandma's way of handling her town's busybodies, but if you're looking closely, you'll also find a story subtly woven with a grandmother's love, never more profoundly shown than in the last chapter, which brought me to tears. 

Glad I read it now that I'm older.  I'm a way bigger softy now than I was when I was this book's target audience.  ;-)

(Look Ma, no disclaimer.  My own hard-earned dollars bought this book!) 


  1. I remember when Richard NEWTON Peck gave a presentation at our school. He was crude and awful! I haven't read anything by him since. Richard Peck, on the other hand, makes me laugh. I loved A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and am glad you did, too!

  2. Richard Peck is a wonderful author so I'm not surprised you liked this so much.

  3. Aw, this sounds like a sweet read! Glad you found your way to it, even if it was kind of a journey of misadventures. :)

  4. I haven't read anything by Richard Peck but I do get him and Robert Newton Peck mixed up. A Day No Pigs Would Die is such a good read. I think I'll give Richard Peck a try.