Thursday, December 12, 2013

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Flora is a cynic with a romance writer mother who has no time for her.  But after rescuing a squirrel from death by vacuum cleaner and the squirrel (who Fiona names Ulysses) develops superpowers and a love of poetry, Fiona knows nothing will ever be the same.

What an odd little book!  I kind of loved it.  But what an odd little book!  When I first started reading it I thought it was just weird, but then began to really like it.  I think kids will think it's fun too, superhero squirrel and all, but it's one of those books that adults will connect with on a deeper level, because it's about Life.

Flora's parents are divorced and she lives with her mother, who spends most of her time writing her romance novels on her annoyingly loud typewriter.  Flora tells herself she doesn't care that her parents are divorced or that her mother seems to like her shepherdess lamp more than her.  She's a cynic after all!  Despite her cynic status, Flora loves to read superhero comics, in particular one called The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!  After Ulysses is vacuumed up by Flora's neighbor, Mrs. Tickham, and Flora rescues him, she sees he has developed super strength when he lifts up the vacuum cleaner and shakes it for cracker crumbs.  Even though she's a cynic, Flora recognizes Ulysses' potential superheroness.

Ulysses himself has an awakening after being vacuumed.  He understands people, and realizes he can read and write (as well as other things) and after being read a poem by Mrs. Tickham wants to write poems himself.  Mostly, he wants to learn new things, be near Flora, write poems and eat.  He is also curious about this whole superhero business.

Flora's mother is concerned about Flora's devotion to the squirrel and tries to get Flora's father to "take care of him."  Flora meets a strange boy, William Spiver, who is staying with his aunt Mrs. Tickham.  William Spiver wears dark glasses and claims to be blind due to a traumatic experience he doesn't want to talk about.  Despite the fact Flora finds him annoying, she starts to kind of like him.

As Ulysses develops more superpowers, Flora begins to realize that she really does need (and want) people in her life who love and care about her.  When her mother kidnaps Ulysses, all these strange characters are brought together.

The story was primary told through prose, but it was interspersed with comic strip sections that moved the story along, as well as illustrations accompanying the words.  It was an interesting mix that worked well and played into the whole superhero theme.

The story doesn't have a neatly tied up ending, even though some things are made right.  Not everything is though, which seemed a proper ending for this kind of story.

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