Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press, 2013. Currently Available.
Genre: How to describe the genre? It’s not quite fantasy, but it definitely isn’t realism. It has illustration, but it isn’t fully a graphic novel. It’s a story about the unlikeliest of superheroes and it defies classification in the best of ways.
Face Value: Gorgeous. I love the illustrations in the book and both Flora and Ulysses are perfectly captured on the cover. This is a heroine to fall in love with right from the cover, and the content will not disappoint.
Does it Break the Slate? Holy Bagumba Yes! Flora and Ulysses are my new favorite team of superheroes! Flora’s cynicism and Ulysses poetic soul make for a fantastic team who are prepared for anything. With a fantastic Slatebreaking hero and a deeper meaning masked by silliness, this is one for the canon.
Who would we give it to? Kate DiCamillo writes for everyone. Whether she’s writing heartwrenching epics like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or hilarious beginning readers like Bink and Gollie, her writing tends to give us the kind of book that the whole family can read together, appreciating it on a range of levels. Flora and Ulysses is just that type of book, with an emotional message unerneath some pretty hilarious squirrel antics.
Review: The theatre company I work for is presenting the world premiere stage adaptation of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane right now and it is an ongoing reminder of how much I love Kate DiCamillo’s writing. She’s remarkably versatile, and she has a gift for creating characters who you fall in love with almost immeidately on the smallest detail. In this one, I fell in love with Flora on page 5, with this passage:
“Flora hated romance novels.
In fact, she hated romance.
“I hate romance” said Flora out loud to herself. She liked the way the words sounded. She imagined them floating above her head in a comic strip bubble; it was a comforting thing to have words hanging over her head. Especially negative words about romance.”
Flora, you see, is a cynic and proud of it. Her parents are divorced and preoccupied, her mother with writing the aforementioned romance novels, her father with his own sadness. She has become a cynic to protect herself, the same reason she has read every single issue of the comic book “Terrible Things Can Happen to You!”
And then there is Ulysses. I am not normally predisposed to like animal characters, particularly squirrels, but I will make an exception for the always-hungry poet Ulysses, whose superpowers begin when Flora rescues him from being sucked up into a vacuum cleaner.
Their adventures continue from there. Flora’s mother becomes the immediate villain, with a desire to get rid of Ulysses, whatever it takes. Other dangers emerge in the form of a diner waitress and a cat. Ulysses discovers he is a poet and Flora discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had. There’s a larger-than-life comic book quality to the story, but there is also a quiet loveliness to Flora, her parents, and their story. Individual lines are hysterical – “George… we have a problem. Your daughter has become emotionally attached to a diseased squirrel ” – or “for a cynic, I am a surprisingly helpful person.” But there is also a deeper resonance. Flora’s experience of her parents divorce is beautifully rendered and beneath the silliness lies a big and beautiful story about family. It’s absolutely ok that Flora is a cynic. But through the course of the narrative, it also becomes ok for her to want things and maybe – just maybe to be a little bit hopeful.
Reviewed from library copy.