Review of Ferris

Ferris Ferris
by Kate DiCamillo
Intermediate    Candlewick    240 pp.
3/24    9781536231052    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781536237375    $18.99

Returning to her literary roots in Florida (see: Because of Winn-Dixie, rev. 7/00; Raymie Nightingale, rev. 3/16), DiCamillo again explores bonds of family, friends, and community. Ferris Winkey finds the summer before fifth grade a puzzling one. Much turbulence surrounds her immediate family, her best friend, and some townspeople: her beloved grandmother, Clarisse, sees a ghost; her uncle leaves his wife and takes up residence in the Winkey basement; her younger sister aspires to be a famous outlaw; and her piano prodigy best friend plays “Mysterious Barricades” exclusively and repeatedly. Thanks to her fourth-grade teacher, who now cries constantly, Ferris has the words for these characters: formidable, unfathomable, unrepentant, quixotic, and bereft. Foreboding is another word Ferris contemplates as Clarisse’s health gradually fails. But having the words to describe people and understanding them is not the same. In a glorious climax in which all the book’s characters gather to appease the ghost, Ferris discovers that obstacles between individuals can disappear if they have the courage to believe in, rather than simply define, a word she knew all along: love. The limited third-person narration glimpses other lives but never dwells on them, thus leaving Ferris’s honest, pre-adolescent perspective to drive the story line. As Clarisse tells Ferris, “Every good story is a love story.” Here, DiCamillo adeptly proves this axiom.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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