Saturday, March 15, 2014

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Flora is an unusual girl, who doesn't seem to have friends. She loves comics and the Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, in particular. Incandesto is a modest, unassuming janitor, with only his faithful parrot, Dolores, as a companion. Flora claims to be a natural born cynic and she always expects the worst, so she  memorizes all the advice for surviving disastrous situations given in the back of the Incandesto comics. Some of this advice does prove helpful in the unbelievable situations that develop in this book.

Flora's divorced mother, Phyllis Buckman, writes romance novels, for which Flora has little regard. Her mother hates Flora's comics and her cynicism. She discourages Flora from reading comics. Flora believes her mother loves her lamp, the little Shepherdess, more than she does her.

Flora's father, George Buckman, is a sort of mousy, sad accountant. He is often flustered and he is easily intimidated by his ex-wife. He seems to love Flora but doesn't know how to express it or relate to her.

When Flora's next door neighbor, Donald Tickham,  buys his wife, Tootie, a super-powerful vacuum, a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X, it is so powerful that it vacuums his pants right off. Next Tootie accidentally vacuums up a squirrel and an unsuspecting superhero is born, able to lift the very vacuum that sucked him up over his head.  As he and Flora soon discover, he can also fly and type poetry. She names him Ulysses, after the vacuum that inadvertently created his superpowers.

Tootie's great-nephew, William Spiver,  is staying with the Tickhams and he is suffering from temporary, hysterical blindness, due to a traumatic incident that he doesn't like to discuss.  He is inexplicably drawn to Flora, who finds him annoying at first, but becomes very fond of him in a short time.

Flora's mother, who couldn't stand the superhero comics, is really pushed over the edge by a superhero squirrel and plots to get rid of him, first enlisting Flora's father. That fails because Flora's father actually likes Ulysses and Ulysses saves him from his landlord's ferocious cat. Then Flora's mother takes matters into her own hands and tries to do away with Ulysses herself.

This book was extremely well reviewed by the conventional review sources and won this year's Newbery Medal, however,  I have also read many negative reviews. I love many of Kate DiCamillo's books- Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux and all the Mercy Watsons, but I don't love this one. The book requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief and I can do that with a book that I really love. I didn't connect with these characters. I felt sorry for Flora but I didn't relate to her, or find her charming or endearing. The adults were sort of bizarre, Roald Dahl type adults, either mean or too mousy to be effective. It is nice that Flora  finds hope and discovers her mother's true feelings for her, but I involved enought in the story to really care. William Spiver's problems get resolved a little too quickly and without sufficient explanation.          2013                                                


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