We first met Beverly Tapinski on page 5 of Kate DiCamillo’s 2016 novel, “Raymie Nightingale”:
She “stared straight ahead, not looking at anybody in particular, and said, ‘My name is Beverly Tapinski and my father is a cop, so I don’t think that you should mess with me. … When you’re the daughter of a cop you see everything. You see it all.’ ”
Beverly Tapinski, tough as nails, cold as ice, 10 years old.
In that book, Beverly, Raymie and wispy little Louisiana Elefante become close friends, so close they call themselves the Three Rancheros. As in so many of DiCamillo’s novels, all three girls had fractured home lives. Raymie’s father ran off with a dental hygienist. Louisiana lived with her batty old grandmother. And Beverly — stoic Beverly showed up now and again with bruises on her face and no explanation.
The girls’ stories continued last year in “Louisiana’s Way Home,” in which Louisiana lost her grandmother and gained a family. And this month comes a third book, this one devoted to Beverly, now 14 years old but pretending to be 16. And folks still probably shouldn’t mess with her.
“Beverly, Right Here” opens grimly, with Beverly burying her dead dog, Buddy, and then leaving home. “My dog is dead,” she thinks. “They can’t make me stay. … No one can make me stay.”
She hitches a ride to Tamaray Beach, Fla., with her cousin, Joe Travis, a roofer who drives a red Camaro and who is clearly no match for Beverly.
Beverly is supremely capable. She is never fazed. She can drive a car. She is afraid of no one. She may not know it, but her tough upbringing is her biggest strength.
When she gets to Tamaray Beach, she calls her mother to let her know she’s OK.
“Her mother answered on the first ring. She didn’t sound too drunk. …‘You’re okay? That’s what you called to tell me? That you’re okay?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Whoop-de-do,’ said her mother. ‘You’re okay.’ ”
Well, after that conversation we would be perfectly happy if Beverly stayed in Tamaray Beach forever. (We have not forgotten about those bruises.)
And at first it does seem as if Beverly is going to stay. She finds a job as a waitress, moves in with lonely, elderly Iola Jenkins in exchange for driving her around, and meets a kind, dweebish boy named Elmer, who works at a place called Zoom City and who plans to go off to Dartmouth in the fall.
But there’s trouble in Tamaray Beach — mainly in the form of a bully named Jerome, whose presence grows more and more ominous. And then Iola’s suspicious son comes to town. Change is inevitable. Beverly — and the reader — knows that this tranquil life she has built can be nothing more than an interlude. But the fact that she was able to build it at all, at age 14, bodes nothing but good for her future.
DiCamillo’s worldview is a generous one; she doesn’t shy away from portraying rough childhoods and sad children, but she also sprinkles her books with decent and understanding grown-ups, surrogate parents, so to speak — people who frightened or lonely children can lean on.
Not that Beverly needs anyone to lean on, of course. She’s tough as nails. She’s seen it all. By the end of the book, though, she has unclenched that heart of hers. She is no longer as cold as ice.
Beverly, Right Here
By: Kate DiCamillo.
Publisher: Candlewick, 241 pages, $16.99.
Event: Signing only, 6 p.m. Sept. 25, Barnes & Noble, 3940 Division St., St. Cloud.