Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy is a memoir of childhood in Mooreland, Indiana, whose population stayed steady at 300 throughout the decades. Nicknamed after a chimpanzee who zipped around on rollerskates, Kimmel narrates the tale of her life in the late '60s and early '70s, when the prevailing trends of American life bypassed tiny Mooreland.
The book is therefore not a snapshot of the United States at that time, but a snapshot of a certain kind of small-town life, a certain kind of Quaker upbringing, a certain kind of girl. And yet, there's enough of the universal in Zippy to appeal and entertain, with her perceptive outsider's take on the world, her love for and frustration with her family, and her small adventures with friends, neighbours, and most of all, dead animals.
Kimmel herself reads this audiobook, in a sharp, clear voice that takes on a childlike cadence when she's speaking as Zippy the quoted character rather than Zippy the narrator. It's hard to imagine another reader doing justice to the distinctive voice of Zippy, with her traces of a child's rural syntax and colloquialisms, and peculiar intonations to get just the right tone of indignation or exasperation with the adults around her.
At the beginning, Kimmel says her sister believed “the book on Mooreland has yet to be written, because no one sane would be interested in reading it.”
"'No, no, wait,' she said. 'I know who might read such a book. A person lying in a hospital bed with no television and no roommate. Just lying there. Maybe waiting for a physical therapist. And then here comes a candystriper with a squeaky library cart, and on that cart there is only one book. Or, or maybe two books — yours, and Cooking with Pork. I can see how a person would be grateful for Mooreland then.'"
That passage is a good demonstration of Kimmel's folksy, funny writing style, and keen observation of detail, using hyperbole and mock exactitude for comic effect. She also demonstrates an admirable lack of ego, creating a memory of herself as Zippy as a likeable, engaging kid, but also a bossy, sly, often inconsiderate, and amusingly unhygienic kid. She describes herself as peculiar-looking, and the cover of the audiobook box backs her up, since her baby photo, while adorable, is not making the Gerber baby quake in his booties.