Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo, was published in 2013 by Candlewick.
Magical realism is a genre that I struggle with. To be honest, I can’t even think of one book title, beyond this one, that I’ve read in magical realism that I’ve liked (there probably are some, but at the moment, nothing comes to mind). I prefer my fantasy world separate from my reality, and I always have, really. I’m more drawn to other-world fantasies than fantasies set in this world and mingling with it.
I didn’t know going in that Flora & Ulysses was magical realism. From the cover, it simply looks like a girl with a pet squirrel. Slightly strange, but it won a Newbery Medal, so there must be something special about it, right?
Then the squirrel picked up a vacuum cleaner, and that’s where the book lost me. I stuck it out, of course, through the whole book. It’s a fairly short and quick read, and to be honest, not all that much happens. Flora finds Ulysses, shenanigans happen, Flora leaves with her father, more shenanigans happen, Flora goes back to her mother’s with her father, more shenanigans happen, Flora and her mother connect, and the ending is happy. While there’s a little bit in there with Flora and her mother in terms of message and power, most of the book is light and fluffy stuff about a superhero squirrel, a cynical girl, and a temporarily blind (or is he?), philosophical boy.
It’s strange, and I’m not a huge fan of strange, especially in realism. I’ve never liked “odd” books, and this one is so quirky, and is so obviously the type of book that will really appeal to certain people, but leave the rest scratching their heads. I was scratching my head as I finished this one. I like that a work of magical realism won the Newbery Medal, but Flora & Ulysses and its superhero squirrel story just made no sense to me.