Plot: Flora is a cynical young girl who loves super hero comics. One day she saves a squirrel from a vacuum cleaner and through this heroic act becomes sidekick like the ones in her beloved stories. Ulysses’ near-death experience gives him super-squirrel powers: he has super strength, can fly and can type poetry. He explores the world with his young friend, defeats evil cats and must confront his arch nemesis: Flora’s mom.
This review was based on an ARC received at BEA 2013. I did not see the final illustrations.
This novel mixes short chapters and hilarious comics (some of the expressions, like Ulysses’ joy at lifting a vacuum cleaner over his head, are absolutely priceless). They complement rather than illustrate each other. This is a format that the kids at my library adore. DiCamillo and Campbell pull it off flawlessly.
Flora is a unique and interesting character in a world populated by hilariously strange people. She calls herself a cynic but this is simply how she copes with her parent’s divorce and her mother’s emotional distance, to keep from hoping. “Do not hope,” she says again and again, “observe.” She is constantly quoting from Terrible Things Can Happen to You, an exaggerated safety column from her comics that guide her actions. William Spiver (do not call him William or Billy) is just as odd, too serious for his age, spouting facts and claiming temporary blindness, though, like Flora, his silly behaviour hides deep pain. There are many others but I was especially charmed by Dr. Meecham who constantly hopes for miracles, no matter how unlikely. But as odd as the characters are, the joke is never on them; they are funny and endearing.
Though this is a laugh out loud tale, it addresses some serious issues: family, loss, friendship and love. The themes of sight ( ex. William Spiver’s blindness) and names (ex. Flora’s father introduces himself constantly and lives in a building owned by a man and terrorized by a cat both named Mr. Klaus) recur throughout the novel and the book would be worth rereading to figure out what DiCamillo is trying to say about them.
This book is a real pleasure for readers of all ages.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures will be released in September 2013. If I am not mistaken, the illustrations should be in colour. I look forward to seeing it!