Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

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Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN 9781406363135
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. Friendship, Grief, Single parents, Aged care, Competition. When her father leaves, Raymie is distraught. She joins a baton twirling class in the hope of winning Little Miss Central Florida Tire 1975, so having her picture in the paper to lure him back home. She knows that doing a good deed will sit well with the judges and tries to find one. But her soul does not seem to be getting much bigger. At the class she meets two other hopefuls, Louisiana and Beverly, each of whom have quite different reasons for being there. Beverly is a take it as you see it type of girl, no holds barred, straight talking and often abrasive, while her cynical comments about baton twirling, cat homes, families and the outrageous Ida Nee will have the reader laughing out loud. Louisiana is an orphan but quietly determined and lives with a very odd grandmother, always on the lookout for the authorities who may take her to a children's home. All three girls are quite different but come to work together to achieve their goals.
But the class does not turn out as it should, partly because of the antics of the very odd teacher, Ida Nee, and Raymie decides to read to someone at the aged centre instead of going to class, so embroiling Louisiana and Beverly in her attempts to retrieve the library book which she loses under one aged person's bed. Beverly wants to sabotage the baton competition, while all Louisiana wants is to get her cat, Archie back. Losing any possibility of winning the money for baton twirling, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands and go to the cat shelter to get Archie, making use of Beverly's skills.
A very funny, darkly humorous episode at the end sees Louisiana in hospital with an array of parents and caregivers arriving to tend to their girls. Raymie's soul becomes larger as she develops friendships and helps solve some of their problems, while accepting that her father is not returning.
Beautifully written, this tale is most appealing in detailing the lives of three young girls who do not quite fit in and are certainly not what they seem. The story evokes understanding and pathos, sympathy and humour as The Three Rancheros set out to right some wrongs.
Fran Knight