Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky

Read this book. Not because it won this year's prestigious Newbery medal (which it did), not because it incited controversy(which it also did).... read it because it's a fabulous book.

What's so great about it? It's funny, heart wrenching, quirky, and hard to put down. It feels both incredibly modern.... and simultaneously timeless. I don't feel like this book could have been written twenty years ago because of the contemporary feel of it.... but I also think I could pick it up in twenty (or sixty) years and enjoy it as much as I do now.

The characters are so achingly well described, and are all so imperfect and.... human. The location is so vivid and detailed that when I read this book, I feel like I'm sweltering in the heat in Hard Pan waiting for my shipment of government food to arrive.

One of my favorite things in the book is the last page... the author's note to the reader. Susan Patron is a librarian, after all, and she tells you just where to find the website for the International Guild of Knot Tyers, the bibliographic information for Are You My Mother?, etc.
Actually, this is probably my second favorite thing.... because my favorite is really Chapter 22 "bonne nuit" which is... a perfect chapter.

The first time I read The Higher Power of Lucky it was very very quickly. I was taking an advanced seminar in children's literature in library school... and the semester started 2 days after the ALA awards were announced. Our professor had scheduled members of this year's Newbery and Siebert committees to talk to us- which was fantastic... but they were scheduled for three weeks from the first day of class. Which meant everyone in my class had to read all the Newbery, Siebert and Caldecott medalists and honor books in the next three weeks. The reading was no problem, but tracking them all down when they had just become the most popular books in the country overnight.... well, that was a problem. (Example, the day before The Higher Power of Lucky won the Newbery it was ranked over #700,000 on Amazon's bestseller list.... the day it won it was ranked #4.) The Higher Power of Lucky was the hardest of all the books to find because its initial printing had been fairly small, and it had been published fairly recently. My professor had a copy, which my class passed around like contraband... I think I had under 24 hours to read it before I had to give it to another classmate.

And, sigh.... after all that... the class session where we were going to talk about the book got cancelled due to snow. Fortunately, one of my classmates did her term paper on 50 years of books about 10 year old girls (and how Lucky compared to her 10 year old predecessors)... so we did get to discuss the book after all.

And now I have a copy all my own (autographed, no less!) so I can enjoy the book over and over.
I'll have to get a second copy to lend out.

Her speech at the Newbery banquet was beautiful, funny, heart wrenching... just like her book.... see my earlier post about the banquet.

In the precious thirty seconds I got to talk to author Susan Patron while she was signing my book at the ALA conference, I learned the following things:
  • She is a joy to talk to.
  • She REALLY likes it when you mention her other books published before Lucky (although she loves to hear about Lucky too.)
  • It was surreal for her to be at the ALA conference as a Famous Author, instead of as a conference attendee.
  • Yes, she does speak French.
  • You can get a parsley grinder on Ebay for $4.


  1. I didn't learn much about this book on Amazon, except that the word "scrotum" appears on the first page, and apparently this is very controversial. Man, and I thought all of this was decided in 1970 when Judy Blume covered menstration in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. Oh well. If your Grade 4-6 child can identify what a scrotum is, they're pretty well educated about anatomy. If they take the trouble to look it up, well, they're like any other pre-teen who gets a kick out of looking up dirty (or not) words in Webster's.

    Anyway, any book that features scrotums so prominently is worth requesting from the library. (I'll get back to you after I've read it, Sue.)

    (I'm really, really sorry that I'm not doing anything to raise the level of discourse on this site. I'm just another addled blog-reader who should probably go back to wonkette.com.)

  2. There was a HUGE controversy over the word scrotum (which appears on the first page). What frustrated me was that people seemed to stop talking about the merits of the actual book (which after all, HAD just won the Newbery) and primarily focused on the controversy and issues of censorship. It was an intersting conversation, and I was glad to read it on blogs, listservs and in the New York Times... but I wanted to hear discussion about the book.
    I was very deliberate about not talking about the controversy in my review... because well, everyone else has talked about it... A LOT. And the word is totally appropriate in context.

    Roger Sutton (editor in chief of the Horn Book) wrote a wonderful editorial in The Horn Book about the word scrotum and the power of censorship. I met him in The Horn Book booth at the ALA conference... and said I really liked his article about scrotums.
    He turned to the person standing next to him (who happended to be the executive editor) and introduced me to her by saying: "This is Susan. She likes my scrotum."