The Higher Power of Lucky

higher-power-of-lucky

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky

by Susan Patron

Age: 9+

Interests: grief, small town life, poverty

Atheneum/Simon & Schuster: 2006

134 pages

Sequels: Lucky Breaks, Lucky for Good

This is the story of 10-year-old Lucky, a girl living in a trailer in the California desert with her guardian Brigitte. Her mother died two years ago and her father refuses to have anything to do with her, instead recruiting his first wife to come all the way from France to care for Lucky. Brigitte is a real fish out of water in Hard Pan, but Lucky loves her and worries that someday she’ll get homesick enough to leave. There seem to be only two other children in Hard Pan. Lucky’s best friend Lincoln is obsessed with tying knots, and younger Miles pesters her constantly. Lucky is searching for her Higher Power, a concept she picked up eavesdropping on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. When she finds Brigitte’s passport and suitcase sitting out, Lucky assumes Brigitte is about to leave. Lucky figures it’s as good a time as any to run away. Her progress is hampered by a massive dust storm, and the fact that her survival kit backpack is way too heavy to carry very far. But her plan really goes off the rails when she runs into Miles, helpless and lost in the middle of the storm, and must help him get to shelter. When the town search party arrives on the scene Lucky turns the gathering into an impromptu memorial service for her mother, pulling the urn from her backpack and scattering the ashes in the wind. The future looks brighter right away, as it turns out Brigitte is not leaving – she just had her passport out in order to legally adopt Lucky.

This is a story about adversity – losing a parent in a freak accident (electrocuted by a downed power line), and living in extreme poverty. The entire quirky population of Hard Pan seems to be enrolled in some twelve-step program or another, surviving on the weekly Government Surplus food handouts. Lucky has several issues to deal with: the loss of her mother, her absentee father, and her uncertain future with Brigitte. Add to that the first twinges of adolescence and Lucky’s turmoil is complete.

I roll my eyes to even report it, but this book ran into controversy over one word which appears on the first page: scrotum. Lucky is listening in on an AA meeting and overhears a story about a rattlesnake biting Short Sammy’s dog on the scrotum. That’s it. There were complaints because the book has been taught in grade 5 classrooms and featured in school libraries. The hubbub over this word is absolutely ridiculous. The author’s choice here just serves to emphasize that Lucky really shouldn’t be eavesdropping on adult conversations at these meetings. And Lucky’s thoughts on the word (“sounds like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much”), and that area of the male anatomy, are pretty accurate for her age, and funny:

It sounded medical and secret, but also important, and Lucky was glad she was a girl and would never have such an aspect as a scrotum to her own body. Deep inside she thought she would be interested in seeing an actual scrotum. But at the same time – and this is where Lucky’s brain was very complicated – she definitely did not want to see one.

There you have the entirety of the “questionable content”! (Heavy sigh.)

I am getting a trifle weary of the kind of book that the Newbery committee often goes for – the story of a young person dealing with the death of a parent as well as crippling poverty in a tiny community of lovable eccentrics. That aside, this book is well-written, funny, and accurate about a very specific time of life, when puberty is just a vague stirring, and kids are beginning to effectively resist what life, family and fate seem to have in store for them. Lucky is an independent thinker, for sure, and is tackling some big issues. It’s just lucky for her that Lincoln, the only boy her age in Hard Pan is just as sensitive and thoughtful as she is, because future romance seems inevitable. (I’m guessing it happens in the two sequels.)

An amusing and thoughtful story about a girl reacting in her own unique way to hard times.

 

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.