A Long Way from Chicago: a Novel in Stories

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
A Long Way from Chicago: a Novel in Stories Book Poster Image
A hilarious look at summer in the country.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Grandma lies quite a bit, though always for a good cause, including graphically killing a mouse, putting it into a milk bottle, and pretending it came that way. She also traps fish illegally.


Grandma uses a shotgun, a somewhat graphic train accident, John Dillinger is shot up, and a father beats his delinquent teens with a strap.


The children see a group of drunk men in droopy underwear.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Men get drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this novel is set in small-town Illinois during the Great Depression, which might prompt some curiosity about the time period and the challenges it created for American families. Grandma Dowdel has some unorthodox methods for achieving justice that you wouldn't necessarily want your own kids to emulate, but they're all presented with a sense of fun and outlandishness. That means that, as a role model, she's meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 13-year-old Written byjacknscottsmom January 18, 2010

Heartwarming, funny for kids 8 and up along with their parents

We LOVE this book and have read/listened to it more than 5 times. My mother even bought it and it's sequel to listen to in her car on long trips. It make... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 10, 2017

Funny and Interesting

I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The individual stories kept me interested and entertained. I looked forward to every funny, delightful c... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymanaya light March 24, 2013

good book

its a really good books for kids see im 12 and i loved it

What's the story?

In a series of related short stories, siblings Joey and Mary Alice from Chicago spend a week each summer with their eccentric grandmother in small-town Illinois during the Depression. She convinces a nosy reporter that a dead old reprobate was really a Civil War hero, gets local delinquent bullies the comeuppance they deserve, outwits the local sheriff to help poor drifters, helps a young couple to elope, and arranges for her oldest adversary to keep her house when the bank wants to repossess it.

Is it any good?

Richard Peck's comedy is his best since Bel Air Bambi and the Mall Rats. Filled with the kind of detail that can only come from memory, the book is blessed by Grandma Dowdel, a true original. Sharp-tongued and peppery, like so many of Peck's central characters, she reveals her heart to her grandchildren through action, not mawkish blather.

In a succession of summers she outwits the press, local hooligans, and the sheriff, all for the benefit of the town and its residents, whom she appears to despise. Her clever, no-nonsense approach to problems is wicked and original, though often mystifying to her grandchildren, and Peck's perfect blend of outrageous humor and unsentimental warmth make this a true rarity in comic novels -- one that is at once richly funny, memorable, and deeply satisfying.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical realities of the Great Depression and what it must have been like to be a young person during that time. If you had grown up in the 1930s, where would you have preferred to live -- in Chicago or in rural Illinois? What are some of the ways in which life would have been different in the big city vs. the country?

Book details

  • Author: Richard Peck
  • Genre: Humor
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • Publication date: September 1, 1998
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
  • Number of pages: 148
  • Last updated: July 12, 2017

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