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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Thing About Luck, written by Cynthia Kadohata. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"I suddenly burst into sobs, and the next thing I knew, I wasn't sobbing because I was scared, but because my grandparents worked so hard and because Jaz couldn't make a friend at school and because I knew how desperately my parents wished for their own business, and I doubted they would ever get their wish. I squeezed onto the floor and hugged Thunder to me."

As she hugs Thunder, Summer feels a growing courage, the result of all that has happened to her family over the past year. They have been out of luck for that long, and she wants it to change:

"We were cursed with bad luck. Bad luck chased us around, pointing her bony finger. We got seven flat tires in six weeks, I got malaria, one of fifteen hundred case in the United States this year. And my grandmother's spine started causing her excruciating pain...The thing about luck is that it's like a fever. You can take fever meds and lie in bed and drink chicken broth and sleep seventeen hours in a row, but basically your fever will break when it wants to break."

Hers is a lively and powerful voice throughout this quiet, thoughtful new novel by Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata, Summer thinks that 'bad luck' is her family destiny. Her parents have been called to Japan to care for aging relatives. Summer and her brother Jaz are left to the care of their hardworking maternal grandparents, who are coming out of retirement to help with the family finances. The harvest season is upon them and the changed family heads out together to do what they do to earn a living. Obaachan is the cook for the harvesters, while Jiichan drives the combines and big rigs that get crops in for the harvesting company that has hired them to do custom combine work.

Summer and Jaz must take their homework with them. Summer works right alongside her grandmother to make meals, and help haul them to the fields. Her days are filled with work and worry. She is concerned about Jaz, who is bright and friendless. She frets about her grandmother's horrible back pain, and her grandfather's debilitating fatigue. She wonders if she has what it takes to have her first boyfriend, the son of those who own the harvesting company. It is almost too much. Then, disaster strikes and Summer must make a personal decision that will not please her grandmother. Can she do it alone?

Each character is strong, unique and memorable in this Japanese-American family. Their lifestyle is, to say the least, unusual and one not often considered in a book for adolescent readers. But, it works and provides a most intriguing look at immigrant workers and their family dynamic. It's funny, charming, emotional and inspiring. Readers are sure to be impressed by Summer's take on life and learning, and her love of family. 

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