(Original review posted on my livejournal blog: http://www.livejournal.com/editjournal.bml?journal=intoyourlungs&itemid=11262)Why I Read It:
I'm not sure actually. I've always been kind of curious about DiCamillo's work, especially after her novel The Tales of Despereaux exploded in popularity a few years ago. I came across this particular title when I was browsing through the Kids/Teen section of the Kobo store and found for really cheap, something like $2.00. So I bought it. When I went on my trip at the end of December I didn't want to lug books around with me so I brought just my e-reader and decided to read this first.
After reading this book I can totally see why DiCamillo is such a celebrated middle grade author. This is such a little gem of a book. The book itself was really short and straightforward, so I think my review is going to be very similar.
I think my favorite part of the book was how it never talks down on its readers, despite the fact that it's clearly aimed for a younger demographic. This is mostly seen in Opal's coming to learn about her mother -- who she was, what she was like and why she left Opal and her father. It's said flat-out that Opal's mother was a bit of a drinker and that it was a point of contention between her and her husband. I appreciated so much that DiCamillo didn't feel the need to attempt to hide any ugly truths about Opal's mother. She was also never an idealized or perfect woman -- she was obviously a good person, but she was also flawed (and not just because of the drinking.) I felt this diverted from the typical Absent Mother figure that you find in most middle grade novels, which usually has the mother die in some kind of tragic circumstances. In that situation, the mother is usually a seemingly perfect being who was separated from their family for reasons they couldn't control -- that's definitely not the case in this story.
The development of Opal dealing with her introverted father was also really touching. I love how Winn-Dixie tied into it all.. how he gave Opal the courage to ask her father about her mother in the first place, and how Winn-Dixie helped her father loosen up and come out of his turtle shell (as Opal describes it). There was a scene at the end of the book between Opal and the Preacher (his job and what Opal refers to him as) that was especially touching and made me tear up quite a bit.
Just as lovable are all the supporting characters. Despite the short length of the book, the secondary characters felt well-developed and were largely very likable. Even Amanda Wilkinson who comes off as quite the snob at the beginning of the novel turned out to be quite likable. It was nice that her and Opal weren't BFFs by the end of the novel either though -- things just don't work like that in real life. But still, watching them go from less-than-friends to almost-friends was sweet. And of course, I loved the librarian Mrs. Dump and the elder Ms. Franny Block. I also liked the sensitivity that was taken into account for Otis's character. I felt so bad for the poor guy.Final Judgment:
This was a very cute, sweet and touching novel. I loved how the Absent Mother was dealt with (which was not how it's typically dealt with in MG novels) and how DiCamillo never talks down to her readers. I also loved watching Opal's relationship with her father grow and watching how they both learn to grieve for the absence of a wife and mother. The cast of supporting characters was also really done and they were all well developed despite the short length of the novel. This is seriously worth checking out and I can see this being a classic in children's literature. I definitely want to check out the rest of DiCamillo's MG work.