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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 6 years, 11 months ago

2 January 2013 THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadohata, Atheneum, June 2013, 288p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-1882-0


"I go to the movie and I go downtown

Somebody keeps telling me don't hang around

It's been a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

Oh, yes, it will"

-- Sam Cooke


"The hall light went on, and Jiichan came into the bedroom. He pulled up the chair from my desk.

"'Tonight I tell you the story of a weed,' he said. 'Once when I was a boy, I pulling weeds in orange grove. Day hot, many weed, back hurt. Bad day. Weed came from all over the night before. Suddenly, more weed than I ever seen. Weed my special enemy. I hate them more than anything. I have many nightmare about weed. But that day I find special weed I never see before. My mother scold me, but I take weed roots carefully out, and I leave field and put my special weed in jar of water. Then after work I plant it in wet soil. Every day I take care of that weed. It grow as tall as me, and that year we have best-tasting orange crop ever. We raise price because everyone want our oranges. So I want you to remember, keep eye open. Always keep eye open for special weed. You both special weed. Oyasumi.'

"'Oysuminasai, Jiichan,' we said."


When the parents of twelve year-old Summer Miyamoto head back to Japan on a family emergency, Summer's sixty-seven year-old maternal grandparents, who live with them, are forced out of retirement. Summer and her little brother Jaz pick up long term homework assignments from the teachers in their Littlefield, Kansas school, and set off with their grandparents on a six-month sojourn of grain harvesting, working for the Parker family in places like Texas and Oklahoma. Summer, who is beginning to become aware of boys -- particularly the fourteen year-old son of her grandparents' employer -- will help Obaachan (Grandmother) feed all of the company's hired hands while Jiichan (Grandfather) drives one of his employer’s 15-ton, $350,000 grain combines.


Author Cynthia Kadohata does an excellent job of portraying the intensity of the lives of the farmers whose entire fortunes rest on their wheat crops being harvested at exactly the right point -- when the grain is mature and tests at the ideal moisture content. Any delay in harvesting combined with an untimely rain can conceivably wipe out the crop and the farmers' future, and readers get an eyeful of the ridiculously long hours the custom combine operators are forced to work when rain is forecast in the too-near future.


It clearly comes down to everybody working no matter what, or being out of a job.

What is most intense about the story is the position in which twelve year-old Summer finds herself. Having, myself, grown up an eldest child who worked alongside my parents, I well-remember what it is like to feel the need to take on adult worries and responsibilities at a young age. But I never faced the littlest fraction of what this girl on the cusp of adolescence is handed.


Summer's brother Jaz is a child with significant social challenges, being that he is developmentally somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Summer must always be a good big sister to him and be his support system. Her grandmother has a severe chronic back condition on top of sometimes being prickly and often being difficult to understand. When the situation arises, Summer must be able to immediately prepare the meals for the crew by herself and smooth over the tensions that arise. Then, when her grandfather becomes seriously ill just at the time when the crew is being squeezed the hardest by impending bad weather, Summer is forced to take on the worry of whether her grandparents will lose their jobs, and whether this will result in her parents defaulting on their mortgage and losing the house in Kansas that they all share.


It all makes an earlier event in the story -- where Summer is faced with telling the truth in a very uncomfortable situation -- look like child's play.


Realizing that THE THING ABOUT LUCK is set in the present time, and there are girls like Summer out there today, wandering the nation's breadbasket with their migrant worker parents or grandparents, makes this an even more powerful read about an America that is a whole different world.


This is going to be a book well-worthy of adoption for sixth grade English curriculums. Elisha Cooper's picture book FARM will make a nifty introduction to the ginormous farming operations we see here.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/


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