Ten-year-old self-proclaimed natural-born cynic Flora Belle Buckman has studied enough of her beloved comics to know that it is imperative to be prepared for the Terrible Things that can happen to a person. So when her next-door neighbor's birthday present, a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000x vacuum cleaner, accidentally suctions up a hapless squirrel, she doesn't hesitate--she administers CPR. To the squirrel.
Except....he's not quite an ordinary squirrel anymore. He looks like a squirrel (albeit a slightly bald one, thanks to the vacuum cleaner), and thinks like a squirrel ("Food?"), but now the newly dubbed Ulysses has the powers of a superhero from one of Flora's comics: He can fly! Lift enormous objects! Type! He even writes poetry.
If Flora knows one thing about superheroes, it's that they always have a job to do, and people to save. And Ulysses' new powers do spark an unexpected chain of events, setting Flora on a wild adventure filled with a variety of quirky characters, including a dramatic divorced romance novelist (who also happens to be Flora's mother); a doctor of philosophy from Blundermeecen; Flora's father, who shares her love of comics; her improbably named, poetry-loving neighbor Tootie; and William Spiver, Tootie's pedantic, eccentric great-nephew who insists that he is temporarily blind. They will face opposition, archenemies, and giant donuts. They will realize that the universe is a very random, very beautiful place. And in the end, Ulysses might just save the day.
I first read Flora and Ulysses when I was eight or nine, and I remember enjoying it then--but when I recently reread it for a book group, I utterly adored it. The characters are pitch-perfect and irresistibly quirky, and it's an absolute joy to watch them grow and connect over the course of the story. Kate DiCamillo is brilliant, and her writing makes the many wacky characters, events, and unexpected occurrences hang together perfectly with ease, and keeps the story fast-paced and the reader constantly laughing. It's a difficult book to do justice to in a summary, given the quirky premise, but I can honestly say that it's one of my all-time favorites, and a book which I could read over and over, and would bring me joy every time. Filled with madcap wit, wisdom, hilarity, and surprising tenderness, I would highly recommend Flora and Ulysses to readers ages eight and up--it's an excellent read-aloud, audiobook (complete with superhero music!), or book group selection, and is also a delight to read on one's own.