Book review: A Girl Named Zippy.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana – Haven Kimmel (2001, Broadway Books, New York)

You know that old saying about a book being so good you just couldn’t put it down?  Well, this is one of those books.  Unfortunately, I had to work and cook supper and go to the bank while I was in the middle of Zippy, or I would have finished it sooner than I did. 

And then, once I closed the cover for the final time, there was that whole other problem:  I didn’t want it to end.   It’s a good, deeply satisfying feeling, but sort of sad at the same time – and it happens all too seldom. 

A Girl Named Zippy is a beautifully colourful memoir of author Haven Kimmel, written from the perspective of the child Haven, not her adult self.  That’s not to say the language is childish – it’s far, far from that, with a mischievous blend of sophistication and humour that the wisdom of experience (and retrospect) can bring.  Kimmel’s storytelling is what makes this book so glorious – one moment she’s delivering a gut-check with a poignant observation, the next, she’s ripping through the English language with a turn of phrase so clever it makes your head spin.  I laughed out loud so many times while reading Zippy, and not just because the little girl gets herself into so many scrapes and asks so many questions.  It’s the way Kimmel relates all the little anecdotes that just slays the reader.  From her knee-high views of her grade-school teachers and the other inhabitants of her tiny hometown of Mooreland, Indiana, to her psychological evaluations of her family and collection of slightly off-the-wall friends and her descriptions of the endless parade of childhood pets, Zippy is relentlessly hilarious and thought-provoking.  Her ideas about religion are particularly interesting – her mother is a devout Quaker, while her father does not believe in organized religion.  This makes for some confusing moments for the young Zippy, whose reluctance to go to church is legendary. 

Sometimes the side of the house would exert a strange and supernatural magnetic force upon my body, which would cause me to fly up against it, face first, and stick there.  With a great concentration of will I could rip one arm free, and then one leg, and eventually pivot until only my back was stuck.  I was like a human fly, moving sideways.  Smack, peel, peel, pivot, smack.  I sometimes spent whole minutes just trying to pass one little section of the house. 

The book is set in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and Kimmel’s evocation of various cultural/historical references is fabulous – they’ll probably spark a bit of nostalgia for some readers.  Mooreland’s rural roots show vividly in the annual harvest fair, and the town still retains the vestige of the drugstore that doubles as a soda shop, but there are a couple of young hippies living down the road and Zippy’s older brother loves the blues and soul tunes of the day.  It’s a crazy/wonderful/honest snapshot of small-town America. 

Okay, that’s enough of my gushing.  Head straight to the library – do not pass “Go” – and find a copy of Zippy.  Don’t plan anything for a few hours, just find a cozy spot and make a big pot of tea.  You deserve a treat.


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