I read Kate DiCamillo’s Three Rancheros series out of order. I read Louisiana’s Way Home a few years back and just finished Raymie Nightingale yesterday afternoon. You can read them out of sequence, but it helps a little to know what happened in Raymie’s world first.
Because of this order of reading, I think Louisiana’s story was stronger. Maybe it was because I was introduced to her first, or maybe because I have heard Raymie’s story before: the father leaves his family for another woman. Mom is depressed and girl will do whatever she can to get him back home. Even learn to twirl a baton and join a local beauty pageant so when she wins, he will see her picture in the newspaper and realize how wonderful she is and come home. She hopes, wishes and of course, finds friends while learning about the crazy world and all the crazy colorful people in it.
The setting is June 1975 but could have easily been set today. This piece of information is lost. If DiCamillo was going to set the story (at the time) 30 years ago, maybe something from that time should be acknowledged? The country was “coming of age” as Raymie is. If you know this fact, the theme is not lost, but what 8 to 12-year-old knows this?
With all that said, it is a sweet, classically DiCamillo story. There is nothing wrong with this book. (Though one Goodreads reviewer did say that the pageant and baton twirling might not be relatable to her students.) It is a quick read for an adult and a real story of life and friendship with all the things kids want to do (rescue dead cats; sabotage pageants; run away; have a crazy granny).
I do think I need to reread Louisiana’s story, as I do not remember her being the way she is in Raymie’s story. And because of that, for me this became Louisiana’s story and Raymie just narrates it. Therefore, Beverly (the third Ranchero of the trio) and her book, Beverly, Right Here, is going to be an interesting conclusion.
To sum it up, if you have read James Howe’s The Misfits, Addie on the Inside and Totally Joe you have read an edgier Three Rancheros. (And I say that with only having read the synopsis of Beverly’s story, which seems to have a similar theme to Joe’s.)