“Julia and the Art of Practical Travel” by Lesley M. M. Blume (2015)
Genre: Middle Grade, Travel, Fiction, Historical
Page Length: 192 pages (hardcover edition)
When her grandmother dies and the once-majestic family estate is sold, eleven-year-old Julia Lancaster and her aunt Constance must take to the road to find Julia’s long-lost mother. They bring with them only the most practical travel things—silver candlestick holders, a few Oriental carpets, some steamer trunks, and Julia’s beloved Brownie camera, which she will use to document their journey across 1960s America.
On the road, Julia and her aunt meet a cast of peculiar characters, including guitar-strumming hippies in Greenwich Village, a legendary voodoo queen in New Orleans, the honorable proprietor of the World’s End Cattle Ranch in Texas, and the colorful sheriff of Gold Point, Nevada (population: 1), who also happens to be the town’s mayor, fire chief, and reverend. But will they find Julia’s mother and a place to call home? (description from Goodreads)
Julia and the Art of Practical Travel takes readers across 1960s America. Our main protagonist is a spunky girl named Julia who has a vast imagination and explores the world around her through the lens of her camera. Along the ride, Julia and her Aunt Constance encounter many different experiences, making this no ordinary road trip.
Julia is more of a tomboy and less of the lady that her grandmother and aunt expect her to be. To me she just seemed misunderstood and doesn’t fit in with most people her age. Julia also feels a bit misplaced because of her mother’s disappearance. She has guardian figures in her life, but she lacks a true “mother” figure.
Throughout the story I was annoyed by the elders in the story who kept trying to rein in the “real” Julia and forced her to be a lady. It felt like they were trying to take away her freedom. But despite that, Julia continues to always be herself and make every day an adventure. In that aspect she kind of reminded me of Pippi Longstocking.
The novel is a travel book that takes us to various parts of the US, and in doing so gives younger readers a wide perspective of a time period that they might not be familiar with. I also liked that pictures strewn throughout the book correlate to what Julia was taking snapshots of.
Though the book was exciting and fun, I felt at times the story was a bit rushed and I wished the story could have lasted longer to give the plot more depth instead of glossing over everything. In doing so, the novel falls kind of flat in some places, and while it kept my interest I felt like there were some things missing from the story.