Beverly, Right Here
“Beverly, Right Here is absolutely the sort of novel many teachers and librarians will be eager to press on children.”
The much-decorated Kate DiCamillo, whose middle-grade novels include such charmers as Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, now offers Beverly, Right Here, the final entry in a series that began with 2016’s Raymie Nightingale. That book introduced readers to the “Three Rancheros,” a trio of girls navigating early-teen complications: resolute Raymie Clarke; dreamy Louisiana Elefante (the focus of Louisiana’s Way Home from 2018); and Beverly Tapinski, the stubborn tough-talker of the bunch. DiCamillo has, it seems, saved the most compelling character for last.
Beverly, Right Here wastes little time gathering momentum. In the first few brisk chapters, uber-independent Beverly departs the misery of life with her indifferent, alcoholic mother; makes her way to a nearby beach town (Florida, late-summer, 1979); secures a job busing tables at a sketchy cafe; is given dinner by the kindly Iola Jenkins, a trailer park resident Beverly happens to meet; drives Iola to her evening bingo game (at 14, Beverly is an experienced driver); and, finally, is invited to stay at Iola’s place. Thus concludes Beverly’s eventful first hours as a runaway.
Although it’s not necessary that a reader have worked through the trilogy’s previous books, familiarity helps. In those volumes we learned enough about Beverly’s various disillusionments to queue us up for her scattershot yearnings in the current book.
The caustic girl in Beverly, Right Here is so hardhearted she remains something of a cipher deep into the volume, answering nearly everyone with a cynical “Right” and nursing bitter thoughts. “Why was there so much crap in the world?” she wonders while wandering the aisles of a store called Zoom City. Iola’s affection for the girl is difficult to see into at this point.
And then, a handful of days in, Beverly’s mood lifts. Bolstered by a quickly blossoming friendship with a boy named Elmer (two years her elder but heading to Dartmouth on a scholarship) and pleased with Iola’s company, “suddenly, things seemed good and possible in a way they hadn’t before.” Elmer’s candor, as well as his unaffected interest in art, appeal to Beverly so readily, she indicates the two of them have become something like “the sun and the moon,” a remarkably accelerated sympathy of souls. Beverly’s hardness, it becomes clear, is merely a cover for a taut desperation; she wants to be loved, she wants to be accepted, she wants to belong. Much of the story traces her attempts at surrendering enough of herself to find these ends.
An ensemble of eccentric characters travels through the pages of Beverly, Right Here, just as in the series’ previous volumes, lending a non-sequitur, indie-movie color to the proceedings: a religious zealot scribbles disturbing cartoons and hands them out to children; a customer at Zoom City informs Beverly almost immediately that he is dying of cancer; the owner of the restaurant where Beverly works seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown and endlessly mentions his kids; a disapproving neighbor of Iola’s materializes to demean Beverly as “trash;” and the boyfriend of one of the restaurant’s waitresses makes a leering entrance, reminding Beverly of a cartoon wolf. “I’m thinking about beating the crap out of him,” Beverly muses to Elmer regarding the young man.
Just as in the trilogy’s first two books, many of the adults Beverly meets have the habit of divulging personal, telling details of their lives readily or confiding hard-won maxims, often within moments of meeting her. “What happens with (your) kids is you want to protect them, and you can’t figure out how to do it, and it drives you crazy.”; “I’m afraid of my own capabilities.”; “I was . . . in the trenches. You don’t never forget it.” These reflections and many more are shared with young Beverly inside the penumbra of introduction to various adults. Whatever else might be said of her, Beverly certainly gets her elders to open up.
Beverly, Right Here is, ultimately, a picaresque, dispensing with fluent chronicling in favor of a string of events that befall our protagonist and against which or within she must test herself. Beverly does mature emotionally as the brief term of her escape progresses, but this seems due mostly to fortuitous happenstance, a series of teachable moments toward which she is nudged by the schedule of the narrative.
DiCamillo’s understated style contributes to the simmering vibe—chapters nearly always end on spare downbeats or with poignant, quiet observations; and pages are loaded with punchy, unadorned sentences. The reader who appreciates this slow-burn presentation and the quirky, hyper-realistic sensibility of the story will be rewarded by Beverly’s redemptive journey. Beverly, Right Here is absolutely the sort of novel many teachers and librarians will be eager to press on children.