[Note: SPOILERS FOLLOW]
As someone who reads the last page of a novel first, it hasn't been too strange to know the gist of The Higher Power of Lucky before I had a chance to actually read the book. From what I had heard, I expected to respect the the story, and most likely to enjoy it. Thanks to Child-Lit, I knew the bit dog didn't die (no, that isn't really a spoiler), so it was safe to read without meditation time, kleenex, and chocolate at the ready. (Not that chocolate preparation ever hurts.)
What I didn't expect was to be inspired, charmed and revolutionized by the story. How on earth can folks be obsessed about a scrotum, when the rest of the story is so unusually empowering? Has all the hoofmorah distracted adult readers from the deep story here?
Lucky is a ten year old scientist, and a "highly evolved human being." She is also a young girl who lacks the complete certainty that she will be loved, that her questions will be answered, that someone will be there tomorrow. The population of her town, and her psyche, can't bear any more subtractions. She has lost her mother, never had her father, and is hoping that getting her Higher Power en force will make it all align. She is funny, imperfect, fierce and frightened as she finds a way to hit bottom hard enough to process her mother's death, and to envision her own someday grown-up self. She hits that bottom with an incredible presence of mind, as periodically wacky as that mind may be.
That's the Newbery story, and it's a great one. We've seen kids like Lucky before, though I for one am always thrilled to meet another.
Yet the revolutions in Lucky go beyond the smart, p-lucky, and lovable kid. These revolutions are two-fold and mirror themselves: First, that a place can be down and out and dry and barren and still absolutely precious, the source of one's higher power. That all creatures, plants and places evolved to a purpose, to a resonance of life. Second, that a person can be down and out and dry and barren and still absolutely precious, and that LIFE is the kicker that can knock our higher power onto the playing field. What got Sammy off his alcohol-soaked arse? His dog's life (and future canine generations) on the line. Miles' grandma kicked her addiction for Miles. People mattering, life mattering, is the kicker. Ya kick the washing machine, even, to keep life going through and not frying out.
There's an incredible mother-energy to The Higher Power of Lucky too -- that scrotum word is potent, clever and highly relevant. Brigitte wanted a kid, and divorced Lucky's father over his unwillingness to have a baby. Lucky's mama wanted a kid too, and managed to get one (Ha-ha!) before Lucky's father realized what his "little sack of the man or animal which has in it the sperm to make a baby" was indeed making. When Lucky's mama dies, her father calls his first wife, Brigitte, who flies across the world to take another woman's little sandy girl into her heart.
Even Miles' grandma may not know what the heck she is doing, but what she isn't doing is burning her own life down anymore. Her mother energy is defused and confused, but it exists, and it brings her to a better plane. These are radical, female, mothering actions. They are part of the power of Lucky -- the idea that we can break ourselves apart for life and love and compassion, kick our best powers into gear, and make ourselves into the world again. It doesn't mean being a doormat, as Sammy's wife and both of Lucky's mothers prove. It does mean that loving life is what makes life in return, and that no matter how badly we have crashed and burned, there is life within us all worth kicking up the power for.
Snakes and scrotums, parsley grinders, just-right moonlight and chollas -- these are the shapes and textures that make the language of Lucky come as alive as its ideas. Some folks write beautifully, some folks have beautiful ideas... some lucky and hardworking ones fuse the two brilliantly. Thanks, Susan Patron for writing as you do!
Maia Cheli-Colando is a writer and photographer. She's also a webmaster and runs a design business while homeschooling her two children. Cheli-Colando originally posted her review to this book in the ccbc-net listserve in response to the "Lucky" controversy educators on the list were discussing. With her permission we've posted her review to the CCF site.