Welcome back to Partonville, where author Charlene Baumbich's third installment in the series, DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF!, picks up the story of 87-year-old Dorothy Jean Westra and her endearing and sometimes wacky cast of friends. There's plenty of excitement in Partonville (population 1,423) to keep Dorothy up late at night talking to the "Big Guy "in her bedtime prayer-chair.
In her first installment, DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE YET?, Baumbich brings to life a believable cast of multi-generational characters living in Partonville, "a circle-the-square" town in the northern part of southern Illinois. The second novel in the series, DEAREST DOROTHY, SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE WEARING US OUT, chronicles Dorothy's move from Crooked Creek Farm, her birthplace that she has always called home, to Tess Walker's old house. Now it's Partonville's Centennial Plus Thirty celebration and there's plenty of disagreement about how to mark the occasion, which will be combined with that annual Pumpkin Festival.
Meanwhile, Raymond Ringwald tries to whip the elderly and off-key community band into shape for the festival, with Dorothy noting "Lord have mercy on all who listen....And Lord have mercy on us after the Pumpkin Festival if we've forced them to listen to such a mess!" Mayor Gladys McKern has a bee in her bonnet about replacing the old clock downtown with a new digital model, getting Crooked Creek Park officially launched, and generally kicks up a fuss. When Gladys lobbies for traffic to be reversed on the square in commemoration of the Centennial Plus Thirty event, it's not hard to guess that chaos lurks just around the corner.
Some of the nicest moments in this novel occur in the personal and e-mail exchanges between Dorothy (aka "Outtamyway" on the Internet) and the transplanted city slicker Josh, now confused about how to be cool in his new school and still hang on to old friendships. He's adjusting to life in "Pardon-me-ville," experiencing all the angst of teenage romance, and planning a date with one girl for the Pumpkin Festival dance while keeping an eye on Shelby at the same time. Conflicted about the changes in his life, Josh emails Dorothy with a desperate message: "Help! I've lost myself!" It's an engaging, intergenerational moment.
Josh's mother Katie copes with her own problems adjusting to small town life, loneliness, and mothering a teenager. Dorothy encourages Katie, telling her, "All new beginnings and chapters take time, Katie. Just give it some time. I'll move this issue right up to the top of my prayer list." But Katie's discouragement grows as she tackles her new life at Crooked Creek farm, where she attempts to sort through the enormous amounts of papers left to her in chaos by her Aunt Tess. In the letters she reads are mysterious references to a Core Four Covenant --- something which, if Dorothy explains it, may throw Katie's life into turmoil and turn the town upside down. When Pastor Delbert gives a sermon on forgiveness, its not long before several of the characters will be called on to practice what he preaches --- himself included.
Although there are a few trouble spots in the dialogue, it's nothing that Baumbich's characters can't overcome through the sheer force of their offbeat personalities. All your favorite characters are here: Dorothy's best friend May Belle and her mentally challenged adult son Earl; Jessie and Arthur Landers; 62-year-old Nellie Ruth; Maggie Malone, the owner of La Feminique Hair Salon and Day Spa; Paul and Jessica Joy, and their sweet baby daughter Sarah Sue. Even the annoying Gladys is more fully fleshed out in this installment, becoming a sympathetic figure to readers. As the story notes, "Even though sometimes all Dorothy seemed to see when squaring off with Gladys was a red as bright as her ceiling, it never stopped her from knowing without a doubt how much she'd miss Gladys if she were gone."
A few surprises await, but mostly this is just an enjoyable continuation of the unfolding story of the Partonville characters that Baumbich's fans have come to love. Baumbich's chatty, conversational writing, soft faith themes, and the endearing relationships between the characters will continue to hook readers.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on December 29, 2010