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Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel are sent to stay with their Grandma Dowdel for a week each summer when they're kids. We know the drill: weird candy selection (root beer barrels, seriously?), weird smells (you know that grandma-perfume smell), and extra cookies all around.
Except that Joey and Mary Alice's experience is a little bit different. In fact, it's kind of epic. For one thing, Grandma Dowdel isn't your typical blue-haired granny.
Also, it's set a long time ago. A Long Way from Chicago takes place during the Great Depression, and each chapter spans a different year when the kids travel via train to see their eccentric, huge Grandma Dowdel.
During the first summer, their grandmother holds a wake for a dead townsman and tells all sorts of tall tales to the reporters who report on his death. The second summer, their grandmother catches a bunch of hooligan boys who have been playing pranks and blowing up outhouses (eww, guys), and she gets them in huge trouble with their father.
The third summer, Grandma Dowdel takes them to steal the sheriff's boat, go trap fishing (which is illegal), and cooks up a storm so she can feed all the vagrants that are passing through town and looking for work.
The summer after that, Grandma Dowdel enters a pie-baking contest and loses…but still manages to get Joey a free ride on an airplane at the fair, which is his biggest dream come true. Cool grandma…or coolest grandma?
The fifth summer, Mary Alice helps a girl in town escape from her abusive mother and run away with the man she loves—and, of course, Grandma and Joey help out, too. The next year, Grandma Dowdel is busy trying to find a way to get Mrs. Wilcox (her best friend) her house back after the bank repossesses it.
And finally, in the last summer that they go to Grandma Dowdel's, the kids join her in the town's Centennial Celebration.
The book closes with Joey—older now and going off to training during World War II—passing on the train through his Grandma Dowdel's town. And even though his grandmother can't see (or text) him as the train zooms by in the middle of the night, she still stands outside her house and waves.
Aww. That's grandma love all the way.