A CAT OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

A free-ranging feline catalyzes community reaction in this pointed warning about the dangers of blindly obeying authority. Dazzled by Jeremiah Hoytie’s magisterial appearance and bluff bonhomie, not to mention the free hot chocolate suddenly available at his gourmet deli, the contented residents of aptly named Felicity-By-The-Lake elect him mayor—only to find themselves victims of a power-hungry schemer and saddled with a dusk curfew plus other restrictive fiats. The citizens grumble, but Hoytie institutes a reign of terror, ordering his 7-foot-tall, 287-pound son Sam to grab scofflaws by their ankles and bring them in to pay fines. Returning to his birthplace after a long wander, Ulwazzer, a cat distinguished by fur that is sometimes one color, sometimes another, finds the people huddling in their houses, and the wildfowl on the lake (those that have survived Sam’s indiscriminate blasting) huddling in the reeds. It’s time to take matters into his own paws. Bauer (The Strange and Wonderful Tale of Robert McDoodle, 1999, etc.) heads the human cast with a familiar type: Daria, a kind young orphan girl forced to do all the Hoyties’ cooking, housework, and storekeeping. Ultimately, she and Ulwazzer cleverly nudge the townsfolk into rising up to send the Hoyties packing. The carpetbaggers’ pop-eyed cupidity comes through clearly in Raglin’s occasional pen-and-ink caricatures. As farce, this is not in the same league with Dahl or Mahy, but Hoytie’s stupid, selfish wife Prucilla provides some low comedy, and readers will relish seeing her, and her family, get what they deserve. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32710-2

Page Count: 197

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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