By Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Available now from Candlewick
I bumped up FLORA & ULYSSES: The Illuminated Adventures on my reading list when it was long-listed for the National Book Award. The shortlist has since been announced and FLORA & ULYSSES is not on it, but it is worth reading.
I've loved Kate DiCamillo's work since her breakout hit, BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE. She's a tremendous author, with beautiful but accessible prose. I liked that FLORA & ULYSSES used a graphic novel format for the illustrations instead of just static images. It gives the novel a chance to play with point of view, and can also be used to entice readers to try a graphic novel or to try a prose novel.
However, I don't think the story is DiCamillo's best. I'm quite fond of the central characters. Flora is the sort of child to believe in strange things when they happen and a huge comic book fan. When she sees Ulysses the squirrel gain superpowers by being sucked into a vacuum, she's ready to take him in and be friends. I also liked her neighbors, the "temporarily blind" William Spiver, who is Flora's age and quite verbose, and his aunt Tootie, who takes a little while longer than the children to warm up to a poetry-writing squirrel.
But the story fell apart around Flora's parents. Her relationship with her mother could be powerful, but her mother spends too long acting like a cartoon villain. Meanwhile, her father compulsively introduces himself for no apparent reason. I kept waiting for someone to mention it within the story, but no one ever did. To top it off, the plot is a little thin. FLORA & ULYSSES feels like an origin story. Although it would be a wonderful series, I think it is a standalone.
I thought FLORA & ULYSSES was wonderfully written and that the story was playful and exciting. But it's not DiCamillo's best. And to be fair to FLORA & ULYSSES, I have high expectations of her work. I must add, however, that Ulysses' poetry is a highlight. It's beautiful without being esoteric.