Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

During the Great Depression, a city girl is sent to live with her eccentric grandmother in a small rural town.


"A Year Down Yonder" by Richard Peck is a heartwarming and humorous novel set during the Great Depression. This Newbery Medal-winning book follows the adventures of Mary Alice, a city girl sent to live with her eccentric grandmother in a small rural town. Through a series of delightful and often poignant vignettes, the story captures the essence of small-town life and the resilience of the human spirit.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story is set in 1937, during the Great Depression, and follows 15-year-old Mary Alice as she is sent to live with her grandmother in a small town in Illinois. Initially skeptical about her new rural surroundings, Mary Alice soon finds herself swept up in the colorful and often eccentric world of her grandmother and the town's quirky residents.


The novel is primarily set in the fictional town of Richland, Illinois, during the Great Depression. The rural setting and the challenges of the era play a significant role in shaping the story's events and characters.

Main Characters

The story features a cast of memorable characters, each adding depth and humor to the narrative.

Mary AliceThe 15-year-old protagonist who moves from Chicago to live with her grandmother in the country
Grandma DowdelMary Alice's eccentric and resourceful grandmother, known for her unconventional antics
Joey DowdelMary Alice's mischievous and endearing younger cousin, who often gets into trouble

Story Points and Main Events

Chapter 1-3: Arrival in Richland

Mary Alice arrives in Richland and is immediately struck by the town's quaint and quirky nature. She meets her formidable grandmother, Grandma Dowdel, and begins to adjust to her new life in the country.

Chapter 4-6: The Halloween Prank

Mary Alice experiences the town's unique Halloween traditions, including a memorable prank orchestrated by Grandma Dowdel that leaves the entire town buzzing.

Chapter 7-9: The Elderly Ladies' Jubilee

Grandma Dowdel and Mary Alice become involved in the planning and execution of the Elderly Ladies' Jubilee, a delightfully humorous event that showcases the town's eccentric characters.

Chapter 10-12: The County Fair

The county fair brings its own share of excitement and challenges, including a memorable encounter with a bull and unexpected competition in the pie-baking contest.

Chapter 13-15: Christmas and New Year's

The holiday season in Richland is filled with warmth, humor, and unexpected acts of generosity, highlighting the tight-knit community's spirit.

Chapter 16-18: Spring and Graduation

As spring arrives, Mary Alice navigates the complexities of young love and confronts the bittersweet reality of leaving Richland and returning to Chicago.

Themes and Insights

Resilience and Community

The novel beautifully illustrates the resilience of individuals during challenging times, as well as the strength and support found within close-knit communities. Through Grandma Dowdel's unorthodox yet effective ways of helping her neighbors, the story celebrates the power of community.

Generosity and Resourcefulness

The characters in the novel often display remarkable generosity and resourcefulness, making the most of what they have and finding creative solutions to their problems. Grandma Dowdel, in particular, embodies these qualities, offering help in unexpected and often unconventional ways.

Coming of Age and Family Bonds

Mary Alice's experiences in Richland lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of family ties. The novel explores the complexities of family relationships and the ways in which bonds can be strengthened through shared experiences and challenges.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Year Down Yonder" offers readers a heartwarming and humorous journey through a small town during a challenging historical period. The novel's vibrant characters, richly detailed setting, and touching moments of humor and warmth make it a delightful and insightful read for readers of all ages.


In "A Year Down Yonder," Richard Peck masterfully weaves a tapestry of small-town life, family dynamics, and the indomitable human spirit. Through a cast of endearing characters and a richly detailed setting, the novel captures the essence of resilience, community, and the enduring bonds of family. Readers are sure to be charmed and moved by this Newbery Medal-winning tale of humor, heart, and the triumph of the human spirit.

A Year Down Yonder FAQ

  1. What is 'A Year Down Yonder' about?

    A Year Down Yonder is a novel by Richard Peck that follows the story of a teenage girl, Mary Alice, who is sent to live with her eccentric grandmother in a rural town during the Great Depression.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Year Down Yonder'?

    Richard Peck is the author of 'A Year Down Yonder'. He is a renowned American novelist known for his young adult fiction.

  3. What is the setting of 'A Year Down Yonder'?

    The novel is set in a small town in rural Illinois during the Great Depression.

  4. Is 'A Year Down Yonder' suitable for all ages?

    While the book is often categorized as young adult fiction, it is suitable for readers of all ages, particularly those interested in historical fiction and coming-of-age stories.

  5. What themes are explored in 'A Year Down Yonder'?

    The novel explores themes of family, community, resilience, and the impact of historical events on individuals and societies.