Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell.
“Don’t we all live in our heads? Where else could we possibly exist? Our brains are the universe.”
For those of you who don’t know (though I don’t know how you possibly couldn’t) Kate Dicamillo is a brilliant author whose books are touching and marked with beautiful prose. I adored The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and the Tale of Desperaux. I didn’t enjoy her other books, Because of Winn Dixie and A Tiger Rising as much, but they were both incredible books. What they all have in common is that they either made me cry or left me close to tears because they are depressing. So I didn’t really know what to expect from Flora & Ulysses when I found out it was funny and quirky.
Well, Flora & Ulysses was a lovable story with wacky characters and an imaginative plot. It is a story about poetry, comic books, superheroes, donuts and everything else in between. Its terribly hard to describe it without making it sound crazy, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that miraculously the story worked.
Every single character is so unconventional they break the mold of cliched characters. From romance writers, to cynics, to child-geniuses, there is not a single person in the story who is not weird. One of the morals of the story is that it’s OK to be weird because everyone is.
Flora is a self-described cynic because she detached herself from emotion after her parent’s divorce. Her motto is “do not hope, instead observe” and she forces herself to look only at the facts. She loves comic books and her source of knowledge is the small panels on the back. One is titled “Terrible Thing Can Happen to You!” and the other is “The Criminal Element”. Then there’s William Spiver who is neurotic but brilliant, also due to family issues. He believes himself to be temporarily blind and does not stop talking about anything and everything in a very philosophical manner. My favourite character was by far Dr. Meescham with her crazy stories about Blundermeecen, the place she grew up in.
Ulysses is the uniting force between all the characters. The squirrel reborn as a superhero is an adorable character who wants nothing more than to eat, be with Flora and write poetry. The moment he gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner marks a significant event for all. It is because of Ulysses that Flora becomes friends with William Spiver. It is because of Ulysses that Flora’s cynical shell begins to crack and it is because of Ulysses that that everything begins to go (somewhat) right. Connected by their love for him, they put their grief aside and unite to save him.
The story discusses what is means to be a hero and that heroism does not necessarily mean saving the world. It deals with how tragedy breaks you and the importance of following your heart. There are also comments on the nature of evil and about expecting the unexpected. About making the most of a situation and not judging people. Basically, the books covers pretty much everything.
Though the ending is not completely happy and perfect (because that would be unrealistic), I thought my heart would burst from happiness. So yes, this book lived up to its expectations and made me want to cry, but this time they were tears of joy.
The story is accompanied by both illustrations and comic book panels which helped bring the story to life. DiCamillo’s excellent writing is filled with tough vocabulary words and hilarious statements, making the book a quick read.
This story was cute, lovable and quirky but still had substance. The best word to describe it as is is fun because there is no way you can read it without having a good time. Recommended to all middle grade lovers.
“That was the thing about tragedy. It was just sitting there, keeping you company, waiting. And you had absolutely no idea.”