Joey Dowdel and his sister Mary Alice are nitty-gritty Windy City kids---but they spend summers in a small town downstate with a grandmother who defies all conventional expectations of traditional grandmother-ing. Each chapter recounts the adventures of a different summer; this technique enables the reader to see Joey and Mary Alice grow up, while simultaneously chronicling the subtle historical changes that shape small-townlife over the course of 8 years.
Peck's narrative style is humorous, warm, and engaging---but he nonetheless manages to extract insights from oddball adventures. Grandma Dowdel hosts a funeral in her front parlor, outpranks the local hooligans, initiates a one-woman crime-wave by stealing the sheriff's rowboat to raid his illegal fish-trap, and bakes a blue-ribbon gooseberry pie that earns Joey a free plane ride at the county fair. Mary Alice helps two young lovers elope, smuggling them aboard an outbound train with Grandma's aid. When the bank threatens to foreclose on the house of Grandma's best friend (Effie Wilcox), Old Mrs. Dowdel comes to the rescue again---with the help of a little old-fashioned blackmail and some tomfoolery at a church rummage sale. At the Centennial Celebration in 1935, Mary Alice out-waltzes the talent show competition. These stories paint an endearing and enduring portrait of small-town America, while exploring the quirky love that binds grandmothers and grandchildren.
This report prepared by Tracie Amirante