There’s no place like home.
In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy repeats this refrain as she clicks her heels, transitioning back from Over the Rainbow in search of the people she loves best in the world. The camera zooms in on her ruby slippers as she follows the instructions for travel. “Click three times, and you’ll be there.” Bright colors fade to grey, and Dorothy wakes up in her own bed in Kansas. The farm is still there after all, safe from the twister, and so are Dorothy’s family and friends.
There’s no place like home. But…what if your home really is gone?
What are the things, aside from the actual house or structure you live in, that make a home your home? And who are the people that populate your secure home base, your family circle?
These are the questions eleven-year-old Julia must figure out, in the YA* road-trip novel Julia and the Art of Practical Travel.
*Young adult fiction, or YA as it’s known in the publishing business, is literature written primarily for adolescents age 12 to 18. Here’s a cool genre map and some reading recommendations if you want to learn more about YA.
The Family Home
Generations of Lancasters have lived in the grand stone house in upstate New York. Over hundreds of years Lancasters have kept their tea times and genteel ways. But by 1969 the money is all gone. The stone house and all its furnishings must be sold.
Julia and her Aunt Constance are not the only Lancasters left now that Grandmother is gone. Julia’s mother, Rosemary, is still living, though she’s made a new life for herself in San Francisco. Half the proceeds from the stone house will belong to Rosemary, if she can be located. Plus, if she sees her daughter again maybe she will change her mind about being a hippie and come back to be part of the family.
That’s the idea, anyway.
The Car’s All Packed
After an interlude in New York City, Aunt Constance and Julia point the car west, bearing their important family news for lost Rosemary. They also have three enormous trunks of “practical travel things.” Such as silver candlesticks.
At various points in the journey the candlesticks and other “travel things” indeed serve practical purposes. Turns out, a priceless Oriental rug and a wooden steamer trunk (turned on its side) make excellent shelter in the desert. And some of the items help to ease social relationships, as the aunt-neice duo rely for lodging on strangers, and people they only know via many degrees of separation.
Along the way they acquire other important items and intangibles too, including a chicken foot from a voodoo priestess, and driving lessons for Julia.
Will Mom Come Home?
***SPOILER ALERT*** (I am sharing one spoiler but not the actual surprising end of the story)
After many adventures, Julia and Constance do find Rosemary. She’s high as a kite in Haight Ashbury. And, no, she’s not coming home, wherever that is now. She doesn’t want the money from the Lancaster property sale. She seems mildly interested in her daughter, but mainly as a potential “little sister” in the new revolution. She invites Julia to stay, to try out this new way of life.
But Julia has learned a thing or two. Though she continues to brush her hair with Rosemary’s shiny black Mason Pearson brush, she knows that the version of Rosemary who once cared about groomed hair doesn’t exist anymore. As much as it hurts to admit, her mother isn’t her mom anymore.
Aunt Constance, however, proves true to her name. She is nothing if not constant. She never argued with Grandmother a day in her life. She’ll see to it that “Joooooolia” attends Miss Horton’s school just like the Lancasters who came before. And what’s more, she persists in her search for Rosemary, wearing hat, gloves, and pearls to as many marijuana-clouded parks as necessary.
Sure, she’s frumpy and old-fashioned, but she is the steady presence Julia needs. So, can Aunt Constance become Julia’s mother? Can she provide Julia a home?
Things and Pictures
As you might guess from the book’s cover image, Julia likes to take pictures with her Brownie camera. The book includes several snaps from the road trip adventure. Early on she spies a water-skimmer in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Farther south in New Orleans, she takes her chances with “real bad luck” by capturing a tarot card cipher. In the Wild West she documents how a monogrammed lace hankie can become the perfect surrender flag.
Until the headmistress at Miss Horton’s school confiscates the Brownie, Julia continues to photograph moments from the emotional adventure that plays out on her return to upstate New York for the start of school. She’s found her mother, but is still on the search for home.
Things and pictures, places and people…how do they all add up to home? The meanings of all of these intersect and overlap many times as Julia and her aunt search, find, and search again in the story.
Things, it turns out, aren’t static. They can be put to new uses. They can keep you focused on what’s important. They can be associated with new memories. You can fill an heirloom teacup with dirt from home. Or you can pour tea into a cup from a teapot you hope never to see again.
Pictures, on the other hand, capture fleeting moments that are over as soon as the subject moves away. Pictures do have value, but they cannot fix people or events or things in time.
People—specifically, redefining who “your people” are—is the most important task in finding home, as Julia and Aunt Constance learn. Before all they know goes *poof* it seems that, as Lancasters, these two might define themselves as:
a respected family
a Girl Whose Mother Abandoned Her But Who Will Soldier On Nonetheless
an old maid
But in the end, our heroines drop those labels and write all new ones for themselves.
And watching just how they do that by following their story is a lot of fun!
I hope you’ll read Julia and the Art of Practical Travel or gift it to someone who likes YA lit, Americana, and stories about finding home.