The Thing About Luck
By Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo
Published 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summer's family is not having much luck. Her parents have to travel to Japan to care for aging relatives right before the start of the harvest season. This means that Summer, her brother, and her grandparents will have to do the harvest work, because without the money from working, the family might lose their house. Can Summer find a way to change her luck?
I am really making an effort to read more middle-grade books, both because I love them and because selecting them is part of my job. Additionally, this book was getting some Newbery buzz, so hitting two birds with one stone. I requested an e-galley when I spotted it available and hoped I'd discover a great realistic read.
I'm not sure how I feel about this one. If you're looking for excitement while you read, I would not recommend this. That doesn't mean it's not a good story, just that it's more of a subtle one. While telling the tale of Summer's harvest season, Kadohata is also telling the story of Summer's coming of age and of her relationship with her various family members. One thing I found both interesting and frustrating about this book was the absence of Summer's parents. In their absence, we are greater able to explore the relationships between Summer and her grandparents, particularly her grandmother. However, we are left with an incomplete picture of Summer's family as a whole and, for me, that was frustrating. I wanted to understand how the dynamics all worked together, not just in bits and pieces. Yes, Summer does talk about her parents from time to time, but it's not the same as if they were there. Of course, absent parents are nothing new in books for kids, so I'm not sure why it bothered me so much here. Perhaps it's because this book wants so much to be about family and I found it confusing to eliminate the parents from the picture if that's the case. Who knows?
Aside from the absent parents, what did I think? Well, I found Summer alternately annoying and endearing. Her paralyzing fear of mosquitoes (admittedly, she had contracted malaria previously, but I found that whole storyline unnecessary) was a bit tedious as well as her stubbornness regarding her grandmother. But her worries about her brother and her honest attempts at doing the right thing for her family were heartening. I like that we readers get a glimpse of Summer's life just as she is truly becoming aware of the situations of others - she is just beginning to understand that what her family can or can't accomplish on the harvest will directly impact the lives of others, of which she may know very little. It is fascinating to watch her just figure this out.
Overall, though, I found that this book didn't really live up to its promise. I expected a lot more; Kadohata has won a Newbery Medal after all. There were good ideas in place; I just didn't find them to be fully developed. A bit of a disappointment for me.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.