In this sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, Mary Alice is now 15 and is sent to live with her Grandma Dowdel in the boondocks of Illinois. She is not excited to live in a place that is so different from a big city. Grandmother is a no-nonsense woman and she is hard to get used to living with. However, as Mary Alice gets used to living in a small town, she finds she enjoys living with her Grandma, which is never boring.
(You do not have to have read A Long Way From Chicago to read A Year Down Yonder, Peck reintroduces you to all of the characters and it is set far enough apart that you don’t feel lost for not having read the first book)
I had to reread this book for to make test questions for a Children’s literature class that I TA for. I usually like middle grade books, but they are not my favorite. However, A Year Down Yonder is hilarious. I actually laughed out loud multiple times. I might have liked it so much because I think it could be considered a cross over into young adult. Even though the book is about Mary Alice, the book centers on her relationship with Grandma Dowdel, who is a spitfire.
A Year Down Yonder is more of a series of short stories about living in a small town during the Great Depression. There is still enough of a narrative arc that keeps the reader intrigued. All of the characters are rich and full. They range from normal to crazy, but all add something to the novel. Even timid Ina Rae has her moments and is fun to read about. Part of the why the book was so much fun to read is Mary Alice’s voice, she is really witty and has some insightful things to say about the people and town around her. Grandma is shown in all lights, being mean to complete a kindness, or knocking down someone who is too uppity for her taste. The fight for power in this small town in extreme and gives the reader endless laughs.