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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman is a self-proclaimed cynic who loves adventure comic books. One day, she sees the neighbor Tootie Tickham accidentally suck up a squirrel in her powerful new vacuum cleaner. In a recurring section of Flora's comic books called Terrible Things Can Happen to You, Flora has read how to perform CPR.

She pulls the squirrel from the vacuum, resuscitates him and names him Ulysses. She believes his near-death experience may have turned him into a superhero. She tries to squelch her sense of hopefulness about this, however, remembering that her comic books recommend always observing rather than hoping. Hoping, the books say, may cause you to waste valuable time you could use to take action.

The squirrel develops some unusual skills upon coming back to life. He lifts heavy objects, including the vacuum cleaner. He enjoys feelings, such as his deep love for Flora, and he is able to think of things other than food. He can understand what Flora tells him, and he responds by nodding. He even can type and write poetry.

Tootie and her quirky great-nephew, William Spiver (who believes he is suffering from temporary trauma-induced blindness and insists on being called by his full name), are intrigued by Ulysses. While they are all at Flora's house, Mrs. Buckman sees Ulysses for the first time. He is climbing up the precious shepherdess lamp she calls Mary Ann.

Flora believes her mother prizes Mary Ann above everything else, including Flora herself. Flora's dad comes to get Flora for a visit. Mrs. Buckman pulls him aside and demands he put the squirrel in a sack and beat it over the head before burying it. Flora realizes if Ulysses is a superhero, then her own mother is Ulysses' arch nemesis.

Flora's father takes her to the Giant Do-Nut shop where Ulysses leaps into a waitress's tall, scary hair. Ulysses is thrown and hits his head, but not before he flies like a superhero. They escape from the angry staff to Mr. Buckman's apartment building.

Flora sees that one of his neighbor's doors says "doctor" on it, so she seeks medical help for Ulysses. It turns out the woman, Dr. Meescham, is a doctor of philosophy. Ulysses regains consciousness, and Dr. Meescham makes lunch. She talks about the perils of loneliness and mentions how sad Mr. Buckman was to leave Flora. Flora is surprised to learn her father has cried many tears over her on Dr. Meescham's couch.

Dr. Meescham pooh-poohs Flora's claim of being a cynic. She tells Flora about the theistic argument Pascal's Wager, in which Pascal contended that since it can't be proven whether God exists, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by believing it. Dr. Meescham lives her life this way, hoping for and believing in miracles still to come.

Flora's concern that Ulysses may not actually be a superhero is soon put to rest. Her father arrives at Dr. Meescham's to take her home but is attacked by the building owner's vicious cat. Ulysses lifts the gigantic cat off of Mr. Buckman's head and throws it down the hall.

When Flora and her father return to Mrs. Buckman's house, they find William Spiver helping her write one of her romance novels. He feels he has a way with words, though he says his interests really lie in meditating on the ever-expanding universe. Flora calls him a traitor for helping her mother — Ulysses' arch-nemesis — and says she's going to move in with her father. Her mother says that Flora moving in with her father would make her mother's life easier. Despite all her efforts to be a cynic who doesn't care about love, Flora is crushed. William says he understands her grief and reveals that he was banished from his household by his mother and stepfather. His stepfather repeatedly refused to call him by his proper name, so he pushed the man's truck into a lake.

Flora's mother and father talk alone, and Father says Flora needs to stay with her mother right now because Mrs. Buckman needs her. Flora misses her father and William Spiver and the person her mother used to be. Mother starts chain smoking and pretends to like Ulysses, his flying and the poetry he types.

One night, Mother catches Ulysses at her typewriter and makes him type a letter stating he's leaving Flora. Ulysses is grieved because none of his goodbye letter is true. He doesn't want to abandon his friend. When Flora discovers her mother and Ulysses are gone, she enlists the help of William Spiver and Tootie. They try to find Mother before she kills Ulysses. Flora brings Mary Ann. She hopes she can use her mother's precious lamp to make an exchange for Ulysses. Flora and William Spiver take comfort by holding each other's hands and talking about missing their fathers.

Still unable to find Ulysses after several hours, Flora, Tootie and William Spiver go to Mr. Buckman's apartment. They learn Ulysses escaped from Mother and made his way to Dr. Meescham's apartment. Mother shows up at the apartment building, and the apartment manager's vicious cat attacks. In the fray, Mother's lamp breaks.

Flora thinks her mother will be devastated, but Mother is only concerned that Flora is OK. Mrs. Buckman admits to kidnapping Ulysses because she wanted things to go back to normal. But when she returned home and Flora wasn't there, she realized all she wanted was her daughter back. Ulysses types a poem about his love for Flora. Everyone listens as Tootie recites the words about how nothing would be easier without Flora and how she has expanded his universe.

Christian Beliefs

Dr. Meescham chooses to believe in God and watch for miracles.

Other Belief Systems

One of Flora's comic books suggests perhaps inanimate objects take on evil energy if they're in the household of an evil person. Her comics also say people in history who acted strangely (similar to Flora's mother) were sometimes accused of being inhabited by a demon, devil or alien. The comic says that this most likely was not the case, but that the people's psyches had simply been pushed to the breaking point.

Authority Roles

Flora's parents are divorced. Before the divorce, they said critical words to each other but acted as though they were talking to Flora. Flora's mother is a self-centered romance writer whose career is her only real concern. When Flora asks to live with her father, her mother says that would make life easier. She later recants and reveals she is a troubled soul who loves her daughter very much.

Flora describes her socially awkward father as the loneliest man in the world. Dr. Meescham reveals that Flora's father has cried many tears for Flora. Dr. Meescham is a kind, hopeful woman, who listens to the problems of others and offers wise advice.


The word heck appears once. Taking lines from Flora's comic books, Flora and her father sometimes say holy bagumba and holy unanticipated occurrences.



Discussion Topics

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Kate DiCamillo






Record Label



Candlewick Press


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Medal Winner, 2014


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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