Raymie’s father has run off with a dental hygienist but Raymie is convinced that if she can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition her father will be so proud of her he will immediately return home. In pursuit of this plan Raymie is taking baton-twirling lessons where she meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Louisiana lives with her grandmother, barely subsisting on whatever food they can scrounge up and faints frequently when overwhelmed. Beverly is angry and loud, yet has surprisingly compassionate insights into other people.
The part of Raymie’s story that’s both the most compelling and the most effective is the way in which Ms DiCamillo is able to show how deeply responsible Raymie feels for both her father’s actions and the fact that her mother is visibly struggling with sadness and anger and betrayal. Raymie pushes her own feelings of hurt and abandonment aside in order to “fix” what she believes to be the problem. Raymie’s logic is absolutely in line with young people who are caught in the wake of adult choices and behaviors. In fact, we can all identify with Raymie’s belief in her ability to “fix” the situation–a situation she desperately wants NOT to have happened. She wants to bring her father home to her and her mother, to create again the family she wishes would exist. Hence, the baton-twirling lessons and the unlikely companions she encounters.
The book description of Raymie Nightingale says these three new friends find unexpected ways to come to the rescue. I did not get that impression when I read the book. The underlying theme of Raymie ultimately realizing that life cannot be manipulated in the way she would like it to be and that some things simply have to be accepted is clearly and effectively communicated. The actual story of Raymie Nightingale, however, felt disjointed and vague. The “rescue” mentioned in the description didn’t fit into the plot in a cohesive way or make much sense on its own.
I didn’t completely dislike Raymie Nightingale, but I was disappointed in it. I found the brilliance of neither character nor plot development that I have come to both expect and enjoy from Kate DiCamillo’s extraordinary body of work. Unless you really have nothing else you’d rather read, I’d pass on this one and re-read (or experience for the first time!) any of her other books.