Flora & Ulysses (hardcover)
by Kate DiCamillo
AR Level 4.3, 5 points
This is a cute story about a cynical girl and her super hero squirrel. Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic who lives with her mother (the arch-nemesis) and visits with her father. She and her father share a love of a particular comic, called The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incadesto, with a segment called “Terrible Things Can Happen To You.” Both of these are referenced throughout the story, and there are many comparisons in the story lines.
So Flora comes upon a squirrel named Ulysses, whom she rescues from her neighbor’s vacuum cleaner. Upon rescuing him, she discovers he has super powers, including the ability to fly, type poetry, and communicate with humans. Flora and Ulysses make an instant connection, but Flora’s mother disapproves of a squirrel living in her household, and tries to get Flora’s father to murder him with a bag and shovel. Yikes! Flora and Ulysses have to work together to battle several intrinsic and extrinsic conflicts, including Flora’s mother’s hurtful words, evil cats, and the ability to change one’s outlook.
What I liked about this book… well, there were several things. First of all, DiCamillo continues to write beautifully complicated characters. Flora is a child I’d enjoy having as a student in my class. She is thoughtful, self-aware, and cynical. She’s a thinker. She and Ulysses have several interesting “friends” in the story, who each have backstories and contribute to the plot in a meaningful way. While those stories are difficult to read, we feel their pain and their strength and the love they feel for our hero and heroine of the story.
Another thing I liked was the wonderful illustrations (it is The ILLUMINATED Adventures, after all). Several chapters are in the form of comic strips, which go nicely with the idea of Flora’s favorite comic book. Ulysses is, himself, a super hero, so naturally, it would make sense to put him in a comic.
What I didn’t like about this book was… I’m not really sure how to explain… while it has all of the qualities of a great novel, I lost focus half way through and picked up another book. Maybe that was my fault, because it really is a good book and an easy read. I have found that DiCamillo writes these sagas that have an end goal, but move from place to place to place, and it kind of gets fuzzy in the middle. Or maybe I’m just ADD, which is a completely reasonable and likely explanation.
This is definitely a good read. It is funny, sad, heart-warming, and suspenseful all at the same time. I can see why it won the John Newbery Medal for 2014.
Book 14 of 52
Update/Side Note: I’ve read 14 books in 10 weeks. I should be a lot farther along, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks!
Thank you Megan for your recommendation, and for letting me borrow your book!