Wednesday, October 9, 2013

CYBILS Middle Grade Fiction Nominee: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata


There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this novel from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.

Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.

The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.

Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.


I wasn't sure that I was going to like this book when I picked it up, but I ended up liking it more than I expected. However, I'm not sure many kids will be interested in this.  The Thing About Luck is more on the thoughtful end of the spectrum and most kids seem to prefer more action-oriented reads. For those who do pick it up and stick with it though the story provides a look at a 12-year-old girl with more than her fair share of difficulties.  With her parents in Japan, Summer is left to go wheat harvesting with her grandparents and brother.  But with a grandmother who can't seem to find a civil word in her head and a brother who lacks social skills but desperately wants a friend, Summer is really stressed.  I found the details about custom harvesters and the workings of combines and wheat harvesting fascinating but many kids may not.  Summer also experiences her first crush as well as having to take up the slack when sickness hits her family.

Strengths: The characterization is superb, I could really easily see Summer as an unsure 7th grader trying to 'settle her personality' and deal with the 'bad luck' that seems to be plaguing her family.  The other characters are just as well done, especially Summer's brother Jaz, and her grandmother. The book felt very real and contemporary and the writing is fabulous.

Weaknesses:  The plot moves slower than most child readers are willing to stick with.  And the details about farming and wheat harvesting in particular are likely to turn off child readers. I also found the grandmother's constant criticism of Summer rather grating. Summer did make plenty of mistakes, but seriously, not even one kind word?! Especially when Jaz pretty much does what he wants. Realistic perhaps but also irritating.

OVERALL:  A thoughtful book about growing up and a challenging way of life for the child reader who enjoys a book with a slower pace but a lot of depth.

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