In A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck returns to rural Illinois and the small town that larger-than-life Mrs. Dowdel calls home. This time, the year is 1958 and Elvis, television and Civil Defense are the buzz words of the day when the Barnhardts move into town. A poor Methodist preacher in a town of "foot-washers," Mr. Barnhardt and his wife have their work cut out for them, as do their children - narrator, 12-year-old Bob, younger sister Ruth Ann, and Phyllis, a high-schooler on the road to trouble. Local kids don't feel any brotherly love for PK's (preacher's kids).
Although each of the books in this companion set A Season of Gifts (A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago) has its own narrator, it is the over-sized, outrageous Mrs. Dowdel who dominates the story. And though she "doesn't neighbor," and is often trigger-happy,
I'm about a squat jump away from a loaded Winchester 21, ...and I'm as tetchy as a bull in fly time,underneath her flap hat, apron, boots, and afghans, she's got a heart of gold.
Like a master comedian, storyteller, or practical joker, Peck takes his time in setting up the dry humor that characterizes Mrs. Dowdel. The reader, so engaged in the story, never sees the setups that span a chapter, two chapters, even the entire book. Mrs. Dowdel is always one step ahead.
A Year Down Yonder is still my favorite, but A Season of Gifts runs a close second. Highly recommended.