Doug Spaulding is a twelve-year-old kid on summer vacation who unexpectedly realizes he's alive one day. And we mean like really alive, the kind of alive where you have to experience everything and feel everything and write it all down and memorize it because it's all so profound. In contemporary America, it would be the summer you realize you're Goth, or the first time you see The Breakfast Club and realize you really, really identify with Ally Sheedy's character.
Compounding Doug's emo-ness is the fact that his hometown of Green Town, Illinois, is straight out of a Tim Burton movie. There's a junk man who rides a horse-drawn wagon through the streets and acts a sort of free, mobile garage sale, deliverer of babies, and occasional maker of mysterious potions. There's a neighbor who whips up yet another magic potion—more of a magic green smoothie, really—to ward off yet another neighbor she thinks is a witch. Oh, and speaking of witches, there may or may not be a real one encased in wax and living in a glass box at the arcade. And then there's the local serial killer.
Thankfully, Doug has his own arsenal of good guys. Most of them are his family members: his brother Tom, his parents, and his grandparents, owners of the local boarding house. In 1920s America, families tended to stick together geographically way more than they do now. It wasn't like you could get a cheap one-way Priceline fare and go start a new life; we're talking "the fastest car in town goes 15 miles an hour." Yes, fifteen.
He also has John Huff and Charlie Woodman, his best buddies—well, at least until John Huff moves away. As if that doesn't make Doug's summer enough of a downer, the neighbors, including his great-Grandmother, start dropping like flies. Some Green Town residents are lucky enough to die of old age, but some get murdered. It's all too much for Doug, a sensitive fellow who realizes that he, too, has to die someday, and he gets so worried about his own death that he almost causes it.
Dandelion Wine is a meditation on mortality, memory, nostalgia, and childhood that starts on the first day of summer and ends on the last. It's a reminder of just how much living you can pack into three months if you really try—and if you have the right shoes.