Heavy Medal Finalist: LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME by Kate DiCamillo
The Newbery Terms and Criteria identify “appropriateness of style” as one of the key elements of “distinguished” text, and that’s the area where LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME truly shines. It’s hard to imagine this story being told in any other way than through the words and unique viewpoint of Louisiana herself. The characters wouldn’t come to life in the same way, the setting would be ordinary, and the plot might not be compelling. Early on we’re introduced to the odd mix of melodrama and abrupt directness in Louisiana’s narration:
Granny has never listened to other people’s instructions. She has ever heeded anyone’s commands. She is the type of person who tells other people what to do, not vice versa.
But in the end, it didn’t matter that Granny refused to stop the car, because fate intervened.
And by that I mean to say that we ran out of gas.
As Louisiana notes, she wants us to “understand the desperation – the utter devastation – in my heart,” but she’s also “writing it down for somewhat more practical matters.” The distinctive style injects a great deal of humor into the book, but the funny parts are always connected to Louisiana’s struggle to find hope and kindness in a world that is not always happy at all:
In some ways, this is a story of woe and confusion, but it is also a story of joy and kindness and free peanuts.
“Thank you,” I said.
I helped myself to fourteen bags.
Vic smiled at me the whole time I was taking peanuts from the rack.
There is goodness in many hearts.
In most hearts.
In some hearts.
I love peanuts.
The style is also attached to a very specific person. We learn a lot about Louisiana through her sometimes rambling consciousness. She’s curious and observant, and appreciates small things that others might miss.
I closed the palm-tree curtains. There is something sad about palm trees cavorting all over curtains when you are not in Florida but are instead in Georgia. Why weren’t the curtains printed with peaches? That is what I wanted to know.
Curtains should be state-appropriate.
Lots of things, in fact, should be different from how they are.
The passage is amusing, and it’s likely the first and only time that the notion of the state appropriateness of curtains has been discussed in a work of literature. But that last sentence reminds us that this is, at least partly, a story of “woe and confusion”
That interplay between flowery exaggeration and practical reality continues throughout the book and keeps us guessing. It takes us from Louisiana’s big ideas and optimism to real life problems that she has to face. Later, she realizes that a central truth to her life, the identity of parents, is actually another fantasy. By then, though, we know how her mind works and we can see how the exuberant side of her outlook will provide the resilience she needs to absorb this discovery, even though it’s so much more serious than peanut bags and curtain decorations.
The distinct style of Louisiana’s narrative also provides a powerful surprise at the ending. Not the plot development that she’ll stay in Georgia…we kind of see that coming. The surprise is the fact that she’s been writing all of this to Granny.
And so here I am, Granny, almost at the end of the story.
Imagine how surprised I am to find that you are the one I am writing it for.
With that knowledge, we look back at the neediness and struggle that was couched within her telling, and realize she’s been telling important things to Granny all along: that her life has been hard since she left; that she’s struggled, but is doing okay (“provisions have been made”); that a big part of who she is has come from Granny; and that she forgives her. It’s only in the last pages of the book that I realized that the central theme is about forgiveness…but as soon as I realized that, I thought: Of course it is. That’s what this whole story has been about all along. And what a brilliant and original way to convey that theme.
Introduction by Steven
Please share your own thoughts about LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME in the comments below. We’ll discuss only the strengths of the novel first, then the discussion opens to questions and possible weaknesses, along with positive aspects, at 12:00 noon (EST)
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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