Monday, July 9, 2007

Review: The Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Summary: 10 year-old orphan Lucky lives in a trailer in Hard Pan, California (population 43) with her Guardian - her absent father's ex-wife, Brigitte. She's constantly searching for answers to life's questions and she finds some of them by eavesdropping on the local Anonymous meetings. Thanks to these meetings, she gets it into her head that she needs a Higher Power - if only she could figure out what that meant. Lucky is accompanied on her quest for knowledge by her non-beagle dog HMS Beagle and her best friend, Lincoln (so named because his mother hopes he'll become President some day). Lucky has always been jealous of Brigitte's affection for her home country of France and one day it looks as though she might go back. Rather than be sent to an orphanage that won't take dogs, Lucky decides to run away. Good thing she always carries her ultra-heavy survival backpack.

What led me to pick it up: Before I knew it was a Newbery nominee (later winner), I read a review that mentioned the recurring theme of government cheese in the novel and was intrigued.

So what about that "bad word?" I think the whole scrotum controversy got so out of control - I was a bit embarrassed on behalf of my profession. I did feel it was an odd choice of word - I found it hard to believe a recovering drunk from a flyspeck town would use the word scrotum rather than balls or nuts. But then, balls or nuts would have actually been inappropriate for kids. It does fit in with Patron's intent (at least what I got out of reading her
response to it) that Lucky is trying so hard to get information about life, but she doesn't always understand the adult world.

As an aside, I visited a library technician Children's Services class and the instructor had passed around a copy to the class before I arrived. At the break, a student came up to her and said he "couldn't find the bad word." :-)

Favourite scene: Hands down, the "Slow Children at Play" scene with Lincoln. I found it very touching.

Overall thoughts: I really enjoyed visiting Hard Pan - the quirky characters and the desert landscape were so well done it really did feel like a visit. I loved wise, knot-tying Lincoln and enjoyed little cookie-addicted, "Are You My Mother?"-toting Miles, even though he was rather a pest. Lucky's habit of jumping to conclusions and "meanness gland" were a bit much at times, but I could still sympathize with her.

At first, the presence of Anonymous meetings in a kids' book was a bit of a shock, but they're certainly a fact of life, especially in the part of town I work in. I was really amused by the description of how all the groups are upset by the debris of the others - the cigarettes upset the smokers, the cans upset the drinkers, the food wrappers upset the overeaters. I did think it was hilarious but also a bit scary that there were well-attended meetings for every vice in a town of 43 people.

I did find, as I often do with award winners, that it might have been a bit more enjoyable for adults than kids. Not that I think we should talk down to kids, but sometimes I think award committees and kids look for different things in a good read. For example, there's quite a lot of briefly revealed backstory to take on board about how Lucky became an orphan (her mother's death, exactly what role her father plays in her life and why he sent Brigitte). But for a sophisticated reader, a trip to Hard Pan could be just the thing.


maggie moran said...

My thoughts, too! Here's a little of what I said for the newspaper:
"Knowing the controversy, pre-read, I was not shocked when I read it on the first page. I’ll admit, it takes a lot to shock me, but I initially thought, “Why this word?”

Picture yourself at a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where someone is telling their “rock bottom” story. Our main character, Lucky, is attending one such meeting by crouching behind a fence, when the offending word is said. Do you think a rough, ex-alcoholic would say “scrotum” or whip-out one of the many colorful slang representations?" (such as balls) ;D

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Maggie - exactly! :) And hey, cool, the newspaper asked for your thoughts on the book? You're a celeb-rarian!

Jennie said...

I had that same thought. Scrotum sounded not like what Little Sammy would say, but when I mentioned that, a collegue pointed out that depending on who else was in the meeting, there's a good chance he would have cleaned up his language...

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Jennie - Ah, a good point!

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